I don’t have children (except for two great young people I had the pleasure and privilege of stepmothering), and I’m not going to, either. Some people assume that it’s because I don’t like children. I think that’s a ridiculous assumption, but only as ridiculous as the idea that you should like children. What for? Some of them aren’t very likeable. Some of them are lovely, just like there are lovely adults and much less lovely ones. Should I take a position on whether I like or dislike adults?
When we “love kids”, we’re pretty much saying that regardless of their personalities, their primary attribute is their child status, and we like or dislike them based on that. Even worse, when we love them just because they’re children, we’re giving them love based on an attribute that they can never expect to hold on to. Maybe we like the feeling of being needed that we get when we’re around people too young to be independent, but that doesn’t sound all that noble when you put it plainly – in fact it sounds a lot like a power thing. Luckily, there are many many adults out here loving their young family members for who they are .. but those people don’t usually ask me about why I “don’t like kids”.
(For the record, I like a lot of people who are currently children, and expect to continue liking them when they’re not.)
Glances flick around the noisy room: noisy both in sound and vision, the bustle and hiss of the people and the coffee machines in the ears, the visual disarray of bags, tables, suitcases and chairs, and amid it all, a well of calm, he sits there, not fiddling with anything. Every pair of eyes, sending darting looks around alighting on the scribblers, the internet junkies tap-tapping on their tablets, the parents wearily calming tired toddlers: every restless gaze lands on him and pauses, at least, before flicking on. His earthy red hair, half-tamed into directed disorder, the lightly freckled pale of his early summer skin, the youthful angularity of his profile silhouetted by the early morning sun, all offer no reason to look away, but it was his grace, his contentment to just sit and be.. that was what kept you looking, risking the awkwardness of being noticed noticing. Plenty of pairs of roaming eyes coursed the public space looking for a safe place to land and stopped on him, and when he inevitably looked back, it wasn’t a look of pride in his attraction or of hostility in defence of his privacy; more of curiosity. Like he’d just answered the door.
I stood there, smiling that incongruous smile that you do when you’re not ok, where all the muscles do the right things (or at least, they do if you’re good at it) but you know with the certainty of having seen it many times in others, that the eyes are not going to lie for you. Lips are slick liars. Put your lips around the shapes that make phrases like “Get home safe” and “Was good to see you” and they will do it with all the nonchalance of “Move along now” and “Nothing to see here”, but you can’t stop your eyes just going on and on and on with the pitiful “Don’t go” and “But I still want you.”
Like I want him to see any of that. I don’t. So I blinked and looked away and made goodbye a blunted moment of brief and forced good cheer, one that still felt like an age of peeling and splitting painted-on bravado.
I played music in the car, stuff I know so well that I sing along without thinking; upbeat stuff that doesn’t let you sink into any long outbreaths.
At home, feeling like I’d made it, cleared the danger point and ready to push forward in some new direction. Maybe a couple of drinks with some friends, maybe do some work, straighten up the flat, maybe sort out some of these things lying around.
These things. Things you just somehow hold on to, not noticing for ages that you’re holding on, until you realise how hard it is to let go of them. Like the presence that’s just wrapped itself around me: the scent he left in my clothes that he wore, now lying limp in my hands, in my arms and against my cheek: rocking with me from side to side, an invisible man materialising inside my empty clothes, here in my empty arms, giving me hollow consolation for the vacancy he left in me.