“Can I come in?” Gator asks me softly, after having knocked almost imperceptibly on our apartment door.
“Of course,” I answer, opening the door further to let him enter. “I’ll call Matthew.” Turning my face to call around the corner, I shout out, “Hey, Matthew, Gator is here.”
I hear the door to my son’s room open. Then, Matthew rounds the corner, entering the small living room to our modest, two-bedroom graduate-school apartment.
At this university, the housing units for graduate students, where we live, were built post-WWII to accommodate the students attending university on the GI Bill. Refurbished and updated at least twice since they were first erected, these apartments were meant to be temporary, yet they remain tiny spaces of retreat for graduate students, visiting faculty and their families.
Gator crosses the living area in five or six easy strides, coming to sit with Matthew at the table-level breakfast bar, which separates our galley kitchen from the sunny living area facing the lake. It was here, not long ago, that Gator underscored his preference for being referred to as “Gator” and not by his given name—a mark of burgeoning individuation and entry into a healthy adolescence.
Moving into the kitchen and past Gator and Matthew, I open the door on our refrigerator to find some peanut butter and apples to have with crackers.
Gator sits down wearily and begins to explain that he had to travel down the hill to visit us after walking out on a one-sided argument with his mother.
“She kept trying to get me to repeat this: ‘I will become a straight-A student. I want to be a straight-A student.’ At first, she was just saying it, and then she was right in my face with her voice raised. I told her calmly that I was not going to lie…
“I have never been a straight-A student. What makes her think that she is going to turn me into something that I am not—something I have never been? And, I won’t lie,” Gator shakes his head in quiet frustration as he finishes explaining his sudden appearance in our home.
Trying to sound nonchalant, I ask Gator, “Does your mom know you’re here?”
Gator continues the thread of his story, “Maybe she is all uptight about scholarships for college or something. But, I won’t lie like that. Don’t you think lying is worse than facing the truth?”
Gator’s question hangs in the air. Matthew is an exceptional listener, leaving Gator a lot of space to work through his conversational experience.
Then, Gator turns to answer my earlier question, “No. she doesn’t know where I am. She just knows that I went for a walk.”
My heart goes out to Gator. I feel gratitude for his presence and the feeling that he considers our home safe space. He is a “good kid”—a thoughtful kid.
“Hey, Gator, would you be alright with my calling your mom, to let her know that you are here?” I ask.
“Yeah, go ahead. She might be getting concerned, with the fight and all,” Gator responds.
As I dial, I think about the issue of conviction, as a trait, and how our own rigidity—in the areas of belief, desire and relationship—can lead us to breaking rather than carry us forward and over the bridge to the safety of compassion and release.
Why are we so hard on the people we love most?