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In the hallway of the YMCA, my daughter and I roll out of
her classroom just as the rest of the kids in there are getting ready to spread
out down on the linoleum, their sleeping bags unrolled out under their tiny
tired asses, their young eyes fixed up upon the downpour stains on the ceiling.
No one will sleep.
But still, 20 or 30 minutes of quiet time will do
them good, I suppose. And besides that, my guess is that it will basically
salvage the three teachers' souls right there at the brink of the drop-off into
the crazy ocean. Four hours of two dozen 4-year-olds will push your buttons no
matter who you are, no matter what you’re made of. They call it nap time, but
it’s Shut-the-Hell-up-for-Just-a-Minute time, and we all know it.
Fair enough; I get a
little exhausted just walking in there to pick Violet up every day.
Anyway, I gather her up and grab her purple schoolbag off
the rack, and she waves at some kids and gives a couple others a hug and then we
close the door gingerly behind us since this is one of those doors that seems
cool, but slams into its wedge like a battleship plowing into a
continent if you don’t hold on to her.
Now, we’re off.
At the first corner where cinderblocks, sopped thick with
paint the color of summer sweet corn, come to a point, my little girl starts
looking down the hall for people to say goodbye to. She knows them all by their
first names, and let me tell you something: it is a damn spectacle when a kid
leads you around a building in town and greets and converses with independent
grown-ups who have nothing to do with you at all in this world, and who—half
the time—just kind of ignore you altogether.
It’s humbling, man. These are real people with real jobs and
serious responsibilities and private lives and dark secrets and vacation plans
and kids in college and kids in jail and mortgage payments and money hidden in
jars out in the woods, and they don’t give a donkey’s crap about me or who I am or what I am up to, oh no! But as soon as they each spot my
kid it’s all:
“Hey, it’s Ms. Violet!”
“You going home
“How was lunch today,
Violet? Did you like the pizza puffs?”
By the big outdated 1,000-pound TV that sits on the
rolling cart, my daughter peers into the small kitchen on the right.
“'Bye Miss Pam!” she shouts, and I basically can see her
voice smashing right through the back wall like the Incredible Hulk crashing nap
time. I picture some of those kids shifting toward the sound of that familiar
voice, and I know that at least half of them probably wish they were heading out
into the world with their daddy now, too.
“See ya, Violet!” replies the Lunch Lady, her eyes barely
leaving the giant vat of pears in syrup she is oozing into a Tupperware barrel.
“Have a good one!” she adds.
I see Violet’s eyebrows lift a little as that phrase pinballs
around inside her brain.
“Have a good one!” my daughter tosses it back.
Near the bulletin board with like 60 arts-and-crafts
construction paper raindrops, I feel Violet’s hand rise up into mine, and just
like that it’s like I’m being deputized by the sheriff.
My heart flutters behind my cage. I could pop with
The director of the preschool is on her phone with her
office door open. She was there when I came in this way by myself, and I can
still hear her voice talking away as the two of us are still 15 steps out.
I want to tell my kid to let this one slide, not to interrupt a busy lady, but,
to be honest, I’m getting my jollies here too. Violet—the baby I held in my
arms just a few years ago and who couldn’t say a word but would just lay there
and blow spittle bubbles up at me when gazes met—this same kid has become a social butterfly on our meandering walks out
of this fortress every day and I’ll be damned if I’m about to give up that sort of thrill, you know?
“Wah-whan-whan-wha-whan-whah-wha,” the lady is talking away
but it’s all in like Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice to me. I mean, I’m not
listening in—I’m just gearing up for the thing.
Violet pulls me to the doorjamb and thrusts her curls into
this stall of an office, and suddenly we are there, the Bielankos, uninvited.
Violet does not disappoint.
Violet says goodbye to about eight more people, each of them by name, unless she doesn’t happen to know their name, in which case she calls them "friend."
“Goodbye, Beth! I’m going home with my daddy, and we are going to the play park with my brother Henry after we pick him up from Cindi’s house with a granola bar or maybe some Goldfish!”
I shrink a little and begin to pull her back into the hall as Beth moves her concentrating hand over her brow like a hat brim. But then, just when I think we’ve busted across some line in the preschool sand, she nudges an eye toward my daughter and waves at the kid as she mouths, “Goodbye Violet’ while whoever she is talking to is talking is oblivious to all of this. We head down the stairs, and it’s more of the same.
The maintenance man stands by a vast toolbox opened on the ground, a long ladder propped up beside him. This time, Violet skips the small talk.
“Whatcha' got there, Joe? You got your tools for fixing the walls and the roof and the swimming pool?”
She talks hard and fast and no one has time to really think about what the hell she is even saying. Which is actually a good way to converse if you think about it.
“Hi there, Violet!” the guy lights up. “Yep, me and Jimmy are fixing the air ducts.”
Violet looks at the ladder and Jimmy’s ass-crack hanging out of his faded Carhartts and in that long moment that hangs in the stale hall air I think I know what is coming. Hell, I think we all do.
“What ducks, Joe?” she says, digging into the scene with her
eyeballs, trying with all of her afternoon might to spot a bird. “Where are the
ducks, Joe? Are they in the air or in the roof!?”
Joe smiles and looks at me and I look at him and we both
know he is in a damn pickle now so I help him out a little.
“C’mon kiddo,” I say with a tug. “Let the guys see if there
are any ducks up there without us scaring them away, OK? Let’s go get some
We make our way down the last hall and Violet says goodbye
to about eight more people, each of them by name, unless she doesn’t happen to
know their name, in which case she calls them "friend."
Then, in our final moments in the building, two silver-haired
lasses in purple sweatsuits and white Reeboks are holding the door for us as we
pass them on their way into the gym. Violet looks up at them, two old ladies
smiling down at her and she gives it back to them with everything she’s got.
She beams a hole through each of ‘em and takes a quick suck of air, and here we
go, I think.
“Hi there, Grandmas!” she says. “Have a nice day in there,
sweet Grandmas! There’s ducks!”
The two women keep smiling, but it’s the same smile they
would probably smile at a drunken stranger who smells like piss and slurs when
he requests 57 cents so he can get the bus back to Williamsport.
Two slow-walkers mystified by the Tasmanian Devil of a
55-pound candy-coated hurricane blowing out of a YMCA building on a bright
sunshiney Tuesday afternoon.