The slap-crack of skateboards hitting cement punctuates the air. The town park vibrates with laughter, conversation, dog yelps, honking horns.
Overhead, dark clouds roll, hanging low, heavy with moisture soon to be dumped on the valley, already green and lush from days of spring rain. You can almost hear growth.
On this spring day, there is no sun to warm my old bones or the moss-streaked slab beneath my backside. Resting against a budded sapling, I’ve claimed a perch and protection, rest and seclusion. It’s a very public place for reflection, I think, for grappling with fresh maternal insights. But, my seat in nature affords a shielded view of the skate park and my man/child at play.
This is not home turf. I am an interloper in a place that has been adopted for a time by my son, this one who carries with him the essence of home and a piece of me. A country boy, transplanted from Indiana farmland to the mecca for “country,” he grapples, too, with understanding why he’s here again, in the center of Tennessee, in a city he’s come to know like the back of his hand. Nashville is charming, to be sure, and the new job is rewarding. But are charm and work reason enough to return?
Squeals from a little one riding piggyback on her Mama ring out. An older, carbon copy of the baby sister scrambles to the top of a rock, calling out to Daddy. “See me?!” Daddy, hands shoved in the pockets of his khaki shorts, turns his head, nods and resumes his pacing. Mama and the daughters play. Daddy looks to the gathering mounds of gray overhead. Is he calculating when the drops will begin? Or wondering when he can safely take his leave of “family time” to retreat back to the house?
It may be the leaving, not the returning, that is the impetus for my offspring’s rebound to this spot so far from home. Leaving the nest that has been a refuge, perhaps once too often, from the trials and realities of life, he’s found his way back here to a city that has become his pseudo-home. This time, he goes it alone. No roommates, no big house full of other voices. Just himself and three empty white rooms in an upstairs apartment in a trendy neighborhood. It was a lucky find—or perhaps a sign? Houses like this near the university never have rooms to let mid-term, with a six-month lease no less. He snatched it up, sight unseen, and now he’s here.
Six weeks into his return and he’s making moves that resemble nest-building. On our visit to a thrift store, he picked up some second-hand drinking glasses, a matted photograph of New York City, a small sofa. A positive sign, I say, though he declares he’s taking it six months at a time.
My son needs this, I think—a visit from the one who’s known him from the womb, who can read his face and hear what he doesn’t say. Providence, not planning, has brought me here at a time when he’s facing the unraveling of an important relationship. His world has been tilted off its axis and he’s looking for a way to right himself.
Mature parents, two late-in-life darlings in tow, stride down the path. “That is the absolute worst thing you could do!” The mother’s reprimand halts her daughter’s exploration. “Put that down! Now we’ll have to wash your hands.” Mother resists as her toddler tugs. “I explained this to you very carefully. This is a walk, not a ‘carry’.” The toddler runs ahead, stumbles, and reaches to Father. “What is it, Angel? Are you hurt?” She doesn’t cry but makes her plea, lifting her arms. “She’s requesting a carry,” he yells to Mother. Mother shakes her head “no,” but Father lifts the toddler into his arms.
Droplets of rain stain the rocks of my shelter. I spot my son as he tips his skateboard with his toe, grabbing the board under his arm, a signal he’s ready to leave. With the ollies, the boardslides, the tumbles onto cement that leave their mark, endorphins have done their job. His young body has worked to relieve tension and he’s been able to think. It shows in his face, in the squaring of his shoulders.
Rising, I square my own shoulders and move in his direction. I can’t suppress the affectionate smile that spreads across my face. He looks exhausted, but relaxed. He looks better.
Rain begins falling steadily as we run to the car. My son tells me he needed this skate time. “Thanks for being patient,” he says. We start talking of food. It’s good to be focused on present, carnal needs, setting aside the “what ifs” and “what’s ahead.” We’re here and now. And something tells me he doesn’t need “a carry.” He just needs me to see him.
In the rain, we drive home.