It’s been, what four years? Nearly. Has it been that long? Yeah.
Poor little guy. You know I saw that look in his eyes, standing there at my door. I’d worn almost that same look a hundred times when I was a kid. But, no. Not that look. Not THAT look. I was selling things door-to-door when I was his age. But I was selling raffle tickets. Chocolate-covered almonds. Microwave popcorn. Honey in little plastic bears. Newspaper subscriptions. I’d worn almost that same look, but only almost. Almost? Yeah. He was peddling church, and that’s entirely different.
Poor little guy. I looked at him from the foot-wide gap I’d opened in my doorway. I looked at him. Then? Then I looked down the driveway, twenty feet away, at his father. Not quite out of earshot. Not quite far enough to do anything but look back at the kid in sad awe that some miserable shit of a father would force a ten-year-old — was he even that old, I can never tell — to peddle church door-to-door while he stood at the bottom of the driveway all smug.
Was that four years ago? Nearly, I think.
I was still on the fence then. Well, not on the fence so much as leaning against it for balance. Both feet were planted on a definite side of the fence. I could still feel the fence there. I could still grab hold and fool myself into thinking it might even be possible to hop back up onto the fence, survey the scenery from it’s picketed heights. I could still fool myself that if I’d wanted to I could leap right back over and pretend that fence really was an impermeable barrier. But no.
That was about four years. Sure. Let’s call it an even four. The date is now so vague. Blurry. Indistinct.
Poor little guy, was going to tell me all about God. A ten year old — really, he couldn’t even have been that old, could he — was going to save my soul. I’d been thinking about this stuff for thirty years. I’d been reading. Books. Essay. Novels. I’d been toying with philosophies of spirituality. I’d glavered, draping the cowls of assorted beliefs around my head for hours, days, sometimes weeks, before shedding them for the cold pitch wind of sans-theism. And what then? This ten year old — really? — was going to school me. Me? He had something to tell me that I’d not heard before? He had some perspective on the trials of this existence that were unique to his short life here on Earth?
Arrogance? No shit. But critical thinking is only about compromising the foundations ideas, ideals and ideologies. I can be arrogant if I want, right? Well, maybe…
Poor little guy.
My wife was pregnant. I was going to be a dad. Imagine that. Imagine little old me as someone’s dad. It was terrifying. There was so much to learn. So many things to get just right. The balance between perfection and utter failure as a parent, precariously unbalanced. It is? I thought so. I’d been reading parenting books. Accessing parenting websites. Burning through fiction geared towards parents, heart-tugging tales of lost childhood and father-child relationships mended on deathbeds after decades of fragile failures at the same. How was I supposed to be a dad? How was I supposed to get this right? No one could get it right. There was too much to know. Too much to do. Too much to see. Too much to say. Too much to buy, to build, to hold. A tightrope walk above a bottomless pit with one shot at success or failure.
And here was this poor kid, and his dad was being a complete asshole. Not that his dad would have seen it that way. Not that many people would have seen it that way. I could hear the voices of my youth, middle-aged white guys in grey suits dressed for Sunday service, saying what a wonderful, blessed thing it was to get the kids out in the community in the name of faith. In the name of belief and god. I could hear those voices, and all the while this kid — this poor, scared shitless kid — is standing there peddling me his church.
I remember it more flamboyantly than it likely really — honestly? – happened, though. I remember I glared at his dad, saying nothing to this kid, giving him a look just as nasty as the look I might give to some dad who’d been caught shaking his baby, yanking his kid by one arm into the backseat of a car, slapped his daughter in the face, or scolded his son after hockey practice for not playing up to potential. I remember giving that look to this church-dressed, bearded man standing at the end of my driveway. I remember, but it probably only happened in my head. But I wanted to give that look. I wanted to pull my hand away from the fence, stand there on my own arrogant knowledge and glare down at him, thinking how the hell dare you do this to your son? How the hell do you put anyone in this position, let alone your child?
And I was fairly certain I was never going to be him. I shut the door on that poor kid, let him go back to that life of — what would you call that life — indoctrination and one-dimensional thought. What a life. What a choice. What could I do, really?
And that was that? Four years ago, I think. Nearly? Nearly.