As I entered what would likely be the third day of working thirteen hours, as usual, my supervisor – staring limply and promptly ahead at the wheel – had NPR playing on the truck radio. We pulled an enclosed trailer with the letters LANDCARE: YOUR LAND. OUR CARE adorning the orange paint. I was a cantankerous worker inside at the moment, body wiped and emotions brittle, angry at the feeling of my fate – having to conform to this austere corporate air, while often times doing a janitor’s work (at least afford me the robustness of the blues or beatitude, but no, we were supposed to feel lucky) – when he pulled over. I realized it was to check the right blinker on the trailer. I jumped out.
“It’s good,” I said, upon seeing it flashing, and hoisted myself back in, slumping to the squeezed and numbing silence of the complete and total irrelevance of my emotions or intellect. We pulled back out onto Eutaw St. and then a right on MLK Blvd., to get onto 95 south to go cut Northrup Grumman’s lawns, out near BWI.
On the radio, NPR was reporting on a migrant children’s holding facility in Texas. It was unclear what the truth was so far: there were officials saying the conditions were amazingly civilized, with classrooms and playgrounds, and there were former officials who had just quit, testifying that the reason they had just quit and were here on the radio was to tell us that two brothers who were just separated from their parents – while being told they were being taken to the bathroom – were under a strict “no-hugging” policy inside these places. The current official came back on saying they were upholding the law, incredulous that this was even an issue, offended as only white supremacists can be. The NPR reporter played it fair. I knew that things were likely far worse in these doldrums of our authoritarian swing than the present moment could even calibrate.
And it hit me like a land mine, because for the first time I could feel the beginnings of the protectiveness that these parents felt, imagine the emotional apocalypse of a child being taken from his parent, from the parent’s end. My other half was pregnant. I was becoming a father.
Also, my own dad had called me and left a message the night before, and I felt the clamp of being a boy and a man at once, the link of reciprocation, almost physical, something pulling me back and something pushing me forward. I wanted to take all his love and I wanted to give it all in one second, in one lifetime. I missed the hell out of him because I was scared I wouldn’t be as good.
My dad has a way of kissing his kids on the neck. When he gives you a hug, he’ll just reemphasize his love by squeezing you and giving you a last paternal thank you. I’ve seen him do it with my brother and I’s girlfriends, and now our wives, adopting them in his way.
When we were really young I remember him giving us a peck on the lips to say goodnight, his coarse whiskers.
When I was twenty-two I set off to Annapolis from Atlanta, dropping out of Georgia State right before my last semester. The logic was – at least proposed by my mom, which my dad genuflected to – that with only one semester left, I would surely finish it anyway. No one took it lightly. For me, there was no logic. I needed to go. The classroom was a torpedo I could not assimilate with.
My dad would have gladly flown me; I think there was a forty-nine dollar special one-way ticket that was actually cheaper than the bus. I wanted to ride the Greyhound Bus sixteen hours for the journey. I was a young writer and I needed to travel on the ground, stubborn to boot (needless to say, these type of stands have probably landed me at my current employment). I was moving in with a new friend with no plan but to find a job and exist in the present on the brim of the future. The kind of thing you can only do when you’re twenty-two. But that was the only point. I wanted to experience things. For me, even a stone’s throw of prediction of what might happen in my life and others’ was too much structure. I was hell-bent on cleaning the palette. I wanted to find out what I had that was uniquely resilient to offer world, what voice rose up when all else burned down and vanished, what was left of me after my teenage crisis and goddammit I wanted to be great! I had all the heroes to guide me. The voices coming through the headphones and off the page. You only have one time in your life to do this, but it also never really stops – which is what one learns. I was reserving my right, as a young man, to take as much space as I needed, be gluttonous in developing the coping mechanisms I would need to survive later. The jury’s still out.
So my dad took me to the Greyhound Bus station in downtown Atlanta, for me an ingloriously glorious scene, and for him just the note of worrisome-ness that comes with having your heart outside your chest, watching your kids get too close to the street. But he was seasoned. We sat across from each other in the station waiting for my chariot; travelers flung about us. I got a burger from the crusty food joint in the back and he looked at me incredulously while I ate it. When it was time to board he walked with me to the bus, what seemed like a bunch of people scavenging for a seat, him chiding for the dimensions, the internal motor, the oil-level, tire pressure, to know that I was okay. He gave me a hug and kissed me like I was boarding Air Force One.