Because I have seen you. I have seen you sleeping in the garden on a rare warm day, feet up on a chair and headphones in your ears; I’ve seen you laughing in a pub with a second beer in your hand, more relaxed than you’ll ever be again once a few more years have passed. I’ve seen you, a sweet boy at age 12 or so smiling squintingly into the camera, which I’ll bet was held by your mom. I’ve seen you as your father, somehow still gangling and awkward in middle age but aching with love for his children. (I watched him find an excuse to tousle your hair one day long after you were too old for that; you’ll do the same someday, exactly the same).
I have seen you tripping over words as if they were strange, unwieldy artifacts in your mouth; as if they were from a language you weren’t yet fluent in, and you wished that someone, somewhere spoke your mother tongue (whatever that is). I saw your relief in moments when it became clear that words were not what was needed; your uncertain but intuitive forays into deeper forms of communication; your careless and abrupt withdrawals. Eventually someone will teach you how to be gentle in your departures, as gentle as you are in your approaches.
I’ve heard you persevere through impossible conversations, looking for words that would soften your message. Sometimes you do more harm than good trying to hold back what will hurt; some injuries can’t be avoided, but it will be awhile longer before you can see the compassion in inflicting them quickly, when they must be inflicted at all.
Despite your more or less consistent inability to know where to put yourself, how to arrange your person comfortably, I have felt you offering love through your body, your hands and lips. Although you are not entirely at home in it, you have learned what it is for, your body; you’ve let me read it like a book while you waited to learn what I found written there.
I’ve seen you sit in silence with a grieving friend, reassuring through simple physical presence, like elephants.
Naturally I will not ever look at your Facebook page: a fragmented but thematically unified documentary telling me that you went to the pub tonight, you played video games all afternoon, you had to clean up the apartment this morning after that party. You are hungover; you are looking forward to getting trashed. You heard a new album; you watched an old cult film. You hate that one professor too, just like the girl who left a post on your wall complaining about the exam, littered with smiley faces and hearts. You ‘like’ her post.
Naturally I will avoid your photo albums: the large hole in your dorm room wall that you (drunk) and your roommates (drunker) created while playing beer pong, you at the bar with two attractively vapid girls (Who are they? But madness lies that way.) And your tagged photos: photographic evidence of pranks pulled, bathrooms passed out in, frat parties crashed.
There’s no way to know (and I won’t venture a prediction) whether these mark the end of a golden age, or are just glitches in the transition from beautiful boy to good man; for you, the best I can do is ignore them. The best I can offer you is that I’ll remember, probably much longer than you will, what you were like in these moments – before you finally developed those protective accretions (cheerful conformity on top of apathy on top of anxiety) that most people grow much sooner, but that you somehow did without for a few extra years into adulthood.
When it’s time, find me; ask me and I’ll tell you about yourself.