Sunday, May 19, 2013

Corner dragon

This little guy, a dragon on his back, smiling, sucking his thumb, he lives on the ledge of the sink in our master bathroom. He's incongruous to the rest of the house but he's always been with me, years now, dorm room to shared apartment to my own apartment to our townhouse to our home.

He was a gift, the little dragon, from someone who meant a lot to me but whom I never could understand. We were close but she kept herself unknowable. I knew all her stories but only the emotionless versions. But we were great complements: I tamed her too-reckless plans and she taught me not to bring too much worry to adventure.

She was gone for a few days, once, traveling to visit family, and brought this little dragon home to me. A token of friendship, she said, and his smile made her think of me. I haven't seen or spoken to her in a very long time. Her tumultuous life took a few more tumultuous turns. My more cautious life took a more predictable trajectory. The two couldn't dovetail too fluidly. But I always have my dragon and her fingerprint on my memories. She was a good influence on me, even if our stories put to paper wouldn't read that way.

Sometimes in the traffic congestion of bedtime one kid or another will brush teeth in our bathroom. Tell me about the dragon, I'm occasionally asked. He's a memento, I just say, an old memory with a broad smile.

This post was inspired by the novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, and the particular story lines of the beefeater figurine and the suitcase of souvenirs. In a war torn Chechnya, a young fatherless girl, a family friend, and a hardened doctor struggle with love and loss. Join From Left to Write on May 20 as we discuss Anthony Marra's debut novel. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.
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The boyfriends

For most of this school year, E has been talking about her boyfriend, a sweet classmate who, just in case he becomes a long-term character in this here story, we'll just call N. He's a great boy, kind, cute, funny. He's smart: they're in the highest reading group together and the skip morning meeting together to go to advanced math. Sometimes they hold hands, her teacher tells me. They have a secret hand-tapping code to communicate with each other across the classroom. I never fell in love with a boy as a seven-year-old and I have a hard time understanding exactly how deep her feelings can run, but she's sincere in her expressions. And he seems to reciprocate them.

We've been hearing about N since November or so and after all this time, L has internalized some of her sister's language. We didn't know that, though.

When L and I had our mama-daughter day a few weeks ago, we concluded with lunch at a restaurant she enjoys. We were there later than the lunch crowd but too early for dinner and the place was nearly empty. L was spinning on the swivel stools and generally being extra adorable, and she charmed the shift manager. They shared some repartee and he left to sweep the floor. He returned with a large cookie in his hand and made a great show of offering it to her. But I don't like that kind! she yelled with brazen honesty. He laughed. "What kind do you like, sweetheart?" And that is how L scored a chocolate chip cookie the size of her face.

They exchanged names. He complimented her eyes. She complimented his silver hair and gold tooth. They high-fived and eventually, we left.

As we replayed our day in conversation, L marveled that out of the kindness of his heart, Melvin had given her the biggest cookie of her life. It just made her so happy. All the experiences of that day paled. The cookie was the keystone. Her gratitude and wonder and amazement at his generosity filled her heart and disposition. Sounds like love, right? By the time we reached the end of the day, she'd decided that Melvin is her boyfriend.

And now whenever E talks about N, L brings up Melvin. When can we see Melvin again? And what if we go there and Melvin isn't working that day? And where does Melvin go when he isn't at work? We have a lot of conversations about the man who bought her heart with chocolate. And there isn't any easy way to tell her that a 50-something man is probably not the best match for her first great love, nor that we might really never see him again, nor that he might not remember her name if we ever do see him again, and especially not that he's not likely to repeat the free cookie trick. She'll hear none of it, though. She's in love.

What we know about N: his favorite color is red. He loves soccer and basketball and went skiing with his family in Idaho over winter break. He has an older brother and lovely, accomplished, attentive parents. What we know about Melvin: he's bold enough to give away the confections. And he is (based on looks) old enough to be L's grandpa.

E has just a few weeks of school and we wonder: will N's charms extend across summer vacation and into the next school year? But L has bigger challenges to confront: her man works over in another county, and her mama might not find reason to feed her there again any time soon.

This is what we know. Young love may turn out to be an anecdote and nothing more, or an epic love story. E was drawn to a boy of great intellect and character. And L: her love can be bought with sugar.

(But we already knew that.)

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