by Beth Saadati
I can’t say I wasn’t warned.
On a chilly 65-degree early-October South Carolina evening—yes, chilly…my Northern blood has turned Southern—a friend leaned in close during the high-school football game. “I heard the marching band’s voice-over this week,” she said. “It’s intense. It might be hard for you to listen to.”
I gave a faint smile, assured her I’d be fine, and buried the words in the back of my brain. Why be afraid? In public—okay, pretty much anywhere, even at home unless I’m alone—my guard stays up. I don’t get emotional. I protect my heart.
The following night, however, something changed. It happened at a different high-school stadium, thirty minutes away. Scanning the scene like an anxious teenager looking around a lunchroom for any familiar face, I climbed the bleachers. The crowd contained no one I knew, but I spied an empty spot beside a friendly looking couple. With repeated excuse-me’s, I shimmied my way across a tightly-packed row of viewers and plopped down on the concrete bench.
Next to me sat an elderly white-haired man, beside him his pom-pom-waving wife. They told me they’d come to watch their grandchildren perform. My teens’ grandma has never gotten to see my kids compete, I thought. She’s eight years in the nursing home, ravaged by Alzheimer’s, unaware of who she is, being fed supper by their grandpa as we speak. I felt the familiar sting of absence but managed to utter with full sincerity, “Your grandkids sure are blessed to have you here.”
He nodded his agreement and asked, “Do you have a dollar?” An odd request to be sure, but I rummaged through my purse. He extended one hand. I gave him the bill.
Meticulously, he folded it, creased it, transformed it with care. Then the origami artist presented his creation—George Washington’s picture converted into a tiny two-inch shirt. His eyes twinkled as he inquired, “How many kids do you have?”
It shouldn’t have been hard to answer. This wasn’t calculus. But I mentally froze upon hearing the innocently asked question I HATE. My paralysis produced an awkward silence as my panicked mind pondered: Two? Or three? What should I say? Finally I lied and betrayed. “Two,” I muttered. Sometimes it’s easier not to explain.
“Girls or boys?” he asked.
Again, I lied. “One of each.”