Sunday, October 12, 2014

Birds Lifting

Birds Lifting (Reilly, 2012)

I'm driving. Dev, my 15-year-old son, turns in the seat and says to me, "There's no getting to what is needed without first protesting."

I'm silent, thinking.

"Not even things that should just be given cause we all know that they're good. These days you can't get to it without a protest."

I listen, refuse to rush in and fill the space his words have opened.

"It's our interests against the corporations and the only way to get our government to actually work, to do what we've put them in office to do, is to protest," he adds. "Everything requires us to protest."

More silence. More space opening.

"It hasn't always been this way," he says in a voice that feels somewhat younger--almost as if he wasn't making a statement.

Or perhaps that's how I want to hear him.

I feel his absence of faith.
Perhaps, I'm feeling my own as well.

"You're right. It hasn't."

As we almost crest the hill that leads to our home, I slow the car and we wait there in the middle of the road. An unsafe place for sure, just below the crest of the hill. We wait as hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of black birds ascend from tree branches, shrubs, and lawns--darting across the road towards the woods. We sit and watch. The car idles, the windows are down, the roof is open and the birds fly--a steady stream of black interrupted now and then by bits of slate grey sky.

"Wow, a Hitchcock moment," I say to Devon.

We are of few words.

I'm putting away groceries thinking about my son's declaration and I'm reminded of a far earlier time--one where I'm talking loudly with my Da. It's dusk, a half-hour or so before supper and I'm explaining to him how we have a caste system akin to India and he's arguing back, a Manhattan at his ready, saying it's not quite so bad. There are still possibilities.

I think he's being less than truthful, choosing his words with some care. I watch as he takes a sip of his drink, pauses. Yes, he's being careful not to deny that a caste system of sorts exists here or at least that's how I'm hearing it, how I'm remembering it. This is the man who took us across the country to the Painted Desert to see what our government had done to the Navajos.

Love is so inconsistent.

They won't teach you this at school, he tells my older brothers and me.

We head towards Interstate 40 traveling East on a road that is marked only by a thin single grey line on the map. I can still see the face of the girl who looked to be about my age, who stood opposite me in that harsh desert light each us bound by the heat. I can see her hand as she takes the few coins from my palm. Her nails are dirty, mine ragged. I bought a small totem she had painted. I still have it, decades later, packed away in a box stashed in my dead father's' attic. This is the way it is. Regardless of where we store the trinkets we've collected along the way, we continue to bear their weight.

And so, on that late day I'm thinking he should know better. I've been telling him about Vicki Battle and how we're friends on the field, just the field. I play third base and she's our short stop. We know how to work the field, back one another up. We've been doing it for years. My Da has watched us play.  But I'm telling him now with some urgency that she and her family live down by the tracks on a block packed with narrow, attached two-story houses. The train runs behind her home.  He knows the area and nods. And it's just like Caesar's place I add. A boyfriend with a notable name, Caesar Chavez, who lives just a town away, who lives above a bar. Trains run behind his apartment too, rattling the windows that are lit by neon.  Between us is such distance--a möbius strip that keeps us from touching.

We live further up the hill where there are no trains, no tracks, no neon. Here, narrow driveways separate one house from the next.  An odd repetition.


I wonder what stories my son will tell when I am no longer here, no longer alive. We are always moving towards death. I wonder who will witness his tales. Who will hear his voice?

Will he remember a fall afternoon thick with black birds?
Will he tell about the time when he first recognized that the only way for right to happen in the world was to first protest?

Injustice is a constant that connects generations.

I wish I could be more clever, more in the moment. But the moment has gone. What I wanted him to know, but failed to tell him, was that difference has never been an antonym for sameness.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Deb. Means a lot coming from you--another mom. Glad it resonated.

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