My son is eight. In body, rather, my son is eight. That is the only part of him, though, that matches the description of an eight year old child. Even his body is not quite that of an eight year old: he is alarmingly, strangely thin, with a long beautiful pure white torso that is now muscular and sinewy from a growing obsession with sports. His legs and arms and feet are all visible bone and soft skin so light I can see his little veins, dancing with life beneath his constantly moving limbs.
His intellect has never been that of a child. Ever. Even from infancy my son, who was my first living child, rarely smiled and still more rarely laughed, unless he found something actually funny. Giggle, never. His was a somber world, and because he has always been thin, and tall (oh, the weeping and terror over his flat bellied baby body), and his eyes set far apart and huge, he often looked as if he were surveying the Earth from a distant, otherworldly perspective.
I had never been around babies, so when he started doing 100, then sometimes 300 piece puzzles by the age of two I thought nothing about it. Except that my neck hurt almost all the time from being bent over so many puzzle pieces for so very many uninterrupted hours. We read about 30 books a day, and usually did at least two 100 piece puzzles before he was able to talk. About the books he would say, “Gaan,” meaning, “again,” and when he started doing the puzzles backward, from their white side, he sort of lost me.
Language came suddenly, as a flood might arrive on a seemingly dry afternoon in the Rocky Mountains. There were no words, and then there were paragraphs, well-spoken, thought out paragraphs. It was the same with reading. There was no reading. And then there was only reading, quite literally within the course of a week or two. If you ask him, he has no memory of “learning” to read. Neither do I. He just… read. First the Little Bear books. That lasted about five days. Then the original Wizard of Oz, which he read so much he committed some of it to memory.
Even at this age I didn’t think much of his cerebral moon-like nature. Once when he was three, and he would still hold my hand, already more for my sake than his, we were in New Mexico, taking a morning walk on a quiet dirt road. It was spring and there was life everywhere; the desert was breathing with that very brief gentle flowering that is all the more precious because it is so short lived.
I looked up at the sky and saw two huge crows, their wings stretched and flashing blue in the morning light. “Look,” I said, “look at those birds, circling around each other. They look like such great friends.” He looked at them, clearly unimpressed. “Archer,” I said, “I think it’s time you make a friend like that. Perhaps in pre-school or a play group.”
He looked up at me, and said with a voice of confident self-knowledge, “Mama, I don’t really have friends.”
It was a moment of intimacy and odd sharing that has remained vividly with me since that day. My son is an adult. And he is a solitary creature. He has been from the womb.
His diamond mind, however, has a profound and difficult occlusion: for all his obvious brilliance, analytical insight, argumentative power and verbal acuity, he also possesses an inverse mirror in his brain of total disorganization, a strange lack of ability to put certain patterns together, and a positively theatrical anger and frustration with the fact that he is not capable of total autonomy. It is difficult to grant autonomous control to a child who has astonishingly well thought-out arguments about why shoes are unnecessary.
My life is particularly chaotic at the moment. I am trying to manage a potential separation and actual rift with my husband. I am struggling to practice the meditation and asana I need to ground and teach me; depression is creeping, kept at the mind’s gate, for the moment, through manic activity and a really fine anti-depressant. I feel old and ugly and am not dancing as much as I’d like, partly because I feel… so fucking old and uncreative and fill-in-the-blank of whatever self-loathing thought fits the bill. Not dancing is a form of punishment. Not practicing is a form of punishment. Why do I need punishing? Well, aside from the fact of just being… human, and therefore sort of a scourge, I am also, I assume, a totally failed mother. Failed marriage = failed mother, right?
Two nights ago I was informed that Archer looked like he “had a black cloud” over him at a party I did not attend. Because I was not there I did not witness the reported black cloud, and therefore felt it necessary to take upon myself, like one of those storm-chasers, researching the antecedents and strength of this storm. It was immediately assumed by all who witnessed my son’s mood that he is horrifically depressed because 1). Daddy is not home every night; 2). Daddy is not home every night; and 3), and most importantly, Daddy is not home every night.
I pulled my son aside, sat him down for the Big Talk. “Archer,” I said. “I was told that you’ve been really sad..” etc etc etc. “I’m not sad,” my son said in his truthful, matter of fact tone, “and I wasn’t sad at that party. I was bored. I was SO bored. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t play basketball, there was this stupid trampoline with people jumping on it. It was boring.”
I looked at him, and I saw a private, eccentric universe in his enormous, honest eyes. “Nug,” I said, using the nickname he for some reason still condones, “you will find sometimes that adults are really good at teaching you academics. But for the most part, adults are really, really stupid.”
We locked eyes, in a particular way we have – it is the only intimacy, really, he fully allows. “You are not stupid,” he said after a time. There was a pause, and we continued to stare, mother to son, son to mother. The stillness of the night seemed an embrace, drawing us closer, or as close as he permits. “No. No I’m not stupid,” I agreed.
“Well, actually,” he corrected himself, “you are really stupid about time. You don’t know anything about time.”
Neither, it turns out, does he. Except that we both know, without ever naming it, that love is infinite, even during these finite days of pain and loss and change.