Monday, February 01, 2010
The Words We Don't Say
Yesterday afternoon I spent about three hours working in the costume room. We have taken out every item of clothing in the hundreds of bins and the four big closets. We have organized them according to article of clothing, length, color. We have looked at every item and found some incredibly long pants that would have gone under my armpits, and some incredibly big pants that one teenager each fit into the legs. We have tried on hats and capes and ahhhed at the beautiful gowns. We've thrown away some hideous stuff too.
So Jennie and I were working and her daughter Olivia, a sophomore, was there sorting and helping us complete the final work. Olivia's boyfriend Ben came to help.
He's a dark-skinned boy with dark hair, not very tall but lithe muscle. I've seen him race around the soccer field and he is fast. If I had to guess, I'd say Ben has some American Indian in his blood (from the looks, not the quickness.)
He's a very nice boy. He climbed up the 8-foot ladder and handed down bins then helped arrange the ones that were already on top of the closets. He climbed into the very big pants next to Olivia and, as a joke, held up a bottle of Fuze Slenderize to show how much weight he and Olivia lost to fit in the size 60 pants.
He asked me about Spencer and we commisserated on the miserable English teacher they had last year.
"Still, he should have stayed in honors English," Ben said. "He's really good at English."
What a nice boy.
As we finished, Olivia tried on a pair of old-fashioned roller skates and I told the two of them that Ben is supposed to skate backward while Olivia skates forward. They were off down the hall.
"She is so good for him," Jennie said when they were out of earshot.
And she wasn't just bragging about her daughter.
None of the three of us had asked Ben how his mother was. None of us mentioned that he had spent a few hours away from home in what might be his mother's last week of life.
The only time the subject was broached was when Ben told Olivia how he, his father and little brother had gone to Nordstrom's to look for suits -- suits to wear to their mother's funeral. They couldn't find anything at Nordstrom's so they ended up at Macy's and found suits there.
I'm not sure if I can think of anything sadder than a 5th grader and 10th grader going to the store to buy suits for their mother's funeral.
Their mother, although I don't know her well, is always smiling and energetic. She fought off cancer last year and would come to the pool with a scarf wrapped around her bald head. This year, her hair grew a short and spiky brown. She worked hanging up coats at the swim meet over Christmas break.
Then the cancer reappeared and her time with those boys and her very kind husband is short.
But Ben wants to not have to think, every minute of the day, about the fact that his mom is dying. So he escapes to spend time with Olivia, to be silly and to be part of a normal family.
I remember when my sister died that I enjoyed laughing with my friends and not thinking about that other part of my life, that I could put away for whole minutes at a time.
So I'm happy to see a smile on Ben's face and that for a little while he can be a teenager who doesn't have to focus on how his life will change one day very soon.
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