Four Boys in the Park with Masks

 Back before I realized that sci-fi usually ended badly–Star Trek and Star Wars being the exceptions at the time–I thought that was the kind of writing I wanted to do. I was reading a story in a sci-fi magazine about a prison guard in the future.

He was responsible for giving prisoners experimental drugs in the form of candy, and the prisoners signed on for it, but he was resentful: they were in a time of famine and his own children were stuck eating sugar bread, which they hated, and he’d worked hard his whole life so they wouldn’t have to do that.

As the narrative progressed, we realized there was something wrong with his youngest, his youngest was bleeding through the nose, and our hero was stuck in a paralysis of guilt and fear. He’d snuck four jellybeans to his youngest–just four–because his youngest was his baby, and he just wanted to give him something good.

Of course I was younger then, and the young live in a world of absolutes, so I believed that this was tragic karma–the man had believed himself better than the prisoners, and he hadn’t realized he was inflicting terrible things on them, and what he’d inflicted on his son was a punishment.

Now, I know better. I know that the terrible pressures of a scary world and perceived injustices–and an almost desperate need for our children to have better than we did–can drive good people to do tragic deeds.

Which leads me to tonight.

ZoomBoy… isn’t doing so well in the Covid  semi-isolation. His sibling has managed to plan days out with friends, with masks, going shopping, or drive-by giftings, so that the lack of social interaction is not quite so pressing, but there is still safe behavior.

ZoomBoy–not so much. And the pain of hearing my son say he has nothing to look forward to, and he doesn’t see a way out of being a perpetual teenager, and he feels like he’s disappearing…

Is acute.

So tomorrow is his birthday, and in a fit of rash hope, I told him he could meet friends at the park to play games. Video games, board games, whatever. They could wear masks and eat takeout and we’d bring cookies and they could… just be… you know. Boys. 

He asked three kids and they all showed up, and they talked and played games, occupying their own isolated picnic table while Squish and Mate and I took up another one. And for two hours, as the cold sun set in the autumn cobalt sky, I watched my son be happy.

Four boys, wearing masks, playing games–it shouldn’t feel like the equivalent of a free-X rave, with heroin in every corner and chugging a beer as a token of admission, should it?

Four boys, wearing masks, giving each other quiet shit about being, well, boys. About how one guy didn’t answer his text so he didn’t get takeout, and another guy gave ZoomBoy a “Happy 5th birthday” card and that was hilarious. Who was listening to Viking metal? Who wanted to play Among Us? Who was passing English? (Not ZoomBoy!)

His grandparents aren’t coming to his birthday dinner tomorrow, and we all know Thanksgiving is my house. Again. Where even the newer floors have grooves from our shuffling feet from this last year of doing so very, very little that makes our hearts brighten.

I miss my parents. I miss my friends. I miss the days when I could talk to my children on the way home from school and their deepest darkest sadness could usually be resolved in the time it took to get home.

Four boys in the park with masks. 

Was the risk worth it? 

I’m sure people will read this post and say, “God no, you selfish dumbass!” And some will read it and go, “I get it, but…Amy.” 

And some will think I’m overreacting and it will all be fine.

And all I can tell you is I’d reached the point of sadness in my own heart that if I did not see some joy in my children, I would have broken. I’m the family’s emotional support animal. I do patrol-dog checks on the family. 

“How you doing? Doing okay? Can I get you anything? How’s the grades? What can I do to help? Going shopping–can I get you anything?” 

I am the human equivalent of a cold nose thrust under the covers to check for breathing and healthy smells.

If my people do not smell healthy, I am besides myself with anxiety–and my people are getting a little ripe.

So my breaking point was this: Four boys, in the park, with masks. 

And my son, smiling all yesterday and today, to know he is not alone.

May we all stay healthy. May we make only the mistakes we can live with. May we hunker down and make it safely to the spring.

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