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It's Nelly's World

Coming Up for Air

alec vanderboom


I put my child on the bus for the first day at a new school, in a new season that feels very, very old--isn't fall the Methuselah of seasons, ancient and wise though it's not going to tell you what it knows?--and he hated me for it. His face through the window was a mask of misery and it made me remember my own hideous experiences with the coming of September: a cold, vague fear squeezing relentlessly from inside.

The night before, he asked me what a "gulag" was. Such an interesting query from your grade-school child. Then he paraphrased the immortal Calvin & Hobbes: "Off to the gulag in a bus."

He berated me all the way to the stop in the morning. You don't know what this feels like! (Ah, honey, but I do; you make it fresh for me, and I am suddenly eleven again.) Why can't I still go to my old school? (The reasons are too many, and have to do with the childishness of the adults who were supposed to have more care for your helplessness.)

Then the bus rumbled out of sight, and I was free again, with a day to get caught up on the life that for the past several weeks has been fleeting like highway scenery past the long-haul trucker's windows. The trees rimming the black waters of Onteora Lake yesterday reflected red and yellow suddenly on their surface. I can breathe a little now. I wonder what my son is doing today, though, in that new school. Is he breathing easily, or is his chest still tight with the newness and the inchoate fears that change always causes to rise in the human heart?

I myself would welcome some change. I think. Right now, though, I want to sit still for just a moment, in the presence of the late-summer cicadas, the light sleepy breaths of the visiting dogs at my feet.

Then to the bank and the auto parts store, for the giant bottle of 15W50. The bike will have change, at least.