by Tamuira Reid
He’s easy to spot.
Signature knee-length yellow raincoat, with a stenciled peace sign on the back of it, that he wears irregardless of the weather. Army green cargo shorts with wrappers erupting from every pocket. White sneakers with orthopedic inserts to help him manage his slippery gait. The Roblox backpack from two Christmases ago, packed with sketch pads and sharpened pencils, an eraser to smudge and soften the lines of his alien bad guy drawings; one sandwich bag filled with gummy bears in case of an emergency snack attack situation (of which there have been many); a love letter from a classmate he’s too preoccupied to love back.
Ollie Duffy, all eleven years of him, comes hurling towards me where I stand, back against a tree, off to the side, where I hide from the uncomfortable conversations that waiting parents are subjected to. Where I drink the last of my coffee in parental anonymity. Ollie Duffy, the kid always falling out of the frame, sliding on giant orthopedic shoes, coke-bottle glasses magnifying his eyes to the point of ridiculousness. In a sea of wayward school kids at pick-up, Ollie Duffy is the tsunami.
He hugs me, always. He asks for food, always. And halfway down Christopher Street, after he’s inhaled his 99 cent bodega chips, is when I get the “How was your day, mom?” Always.
I know he’s not listening because listening is hard. Because grown-up shit is boring. Because Christopher Street is so sparkly, right? We move in-synch and at a fast clip, weaving in and out of pedestrian traffic, our shared skill set. I hold onto his hand, and he lets me. For now.
“What’d you do in school today, bud?”
We both roll our eyes.
“Seriously, Ollie. Why don’t you ever tell me what happens at school? You’re there all day. Something must happen.”
“Sorry, mom. I have lost-term memory.”
“And I have Demented.”
“Too young to have Dementia, Ollie.”
“Maybe I need angerment.”
“Too happy to need anger management. Keep trying.”
“Talking to you makes me tired.”
“Nope. You’re too young to get tired.”
I tell myself that one day I will miss it. Miss taking him to school, and miss picking him up. The train rides that have bookended our daily life together. The ritual of our morning commute. The relentless grind that’s somehow mitigated by his head on my shoulder, or his body wedged under my arm. The tantrums, the silent treatments, the hundreds of forgotten backpacks and hoodies and mittens we’ve had to replace. How I’ve watched his childhood unfold across the years of tin can cars with metal poles and scratched orange seats. How he learned to read on the train. To carry his own stuff. To slide his metro card and use his hip not his hands to push through the turnstile. How he went from being stuffed into a baby carrier, swaddled in safety, to occasionally sitting across from me, the distance threatening the end of something. I tell myself that one day I will miss it but I already do.
The sun is coming in through the train window, hitting his arms. They’re sinewy and long, not the chubby appendages they once were, the big fleshy things I would pinch and kiss or shove into a puffy winter jacket. He’s reading a book about zombies and how they eat people whole, without chewing, his head resting on my shoulder, legs taking up two seats.
“Do you like Zombies, mom?”
“Just some kid. Doesn’t matter. Said only retards believe in Zombies.”
“Well, Todd sounds like an asshole.”
We go underground where the sun is replaced by the cold glow of passing station platforms. I can feel the thumping of my son’s heart like it’s my own. I pull him in closer to me, and he lets me. For now. His glasses are foggy.
“Today I wrote a poem. That’s what I did at school. It’s in my bag.”
Birds and Bullies
By Ollie Duffy
How cool the hummingbird looks I think when it is buzzing
lightning speed kite wings
and then it smashes into the window hoping it was open.
But the world is still closed and lots of hearts are closed too.
Did you know the sound of your heart is like the sound of wings?
Maybe next summer birds will fly into all the windows that we leave open for them and the air won’t be smokey but silky and blue.
Sometimes I pretend I’m a bird and go above the city where it’s peaceful and calm and nobody shuts anything.
Maybe you aren’t mean
but need wings to see the world and then you will know
when the windows close on you how being
a smashed thing feels.