Deer in the Headlights

teenage boys are like deerThe other night –

Okay, I say night, but if you’re from these parts (New England) you know that a summer night can still yield bright sunshine. Seriously bright sunshine. That’s why the deer which darted out in front of me-alone-was an actual anomaly.

No, deer aren’t unusual. In fact, with the plethora of McMansions sprouting around here like daylilies on roadsides and evicting the creatures from their natural habitat, deer are downright plentiful. However, they seem to fill the fields in accordance to some patterned path of behavior. I like to believe that those black and yellow deer postings are akin to our crosswalk signs and that the deer actually do agree to cross the roads within those human-set boundaries. They seem also to follow the safety-in-numbers motto; they travel in groups. They like early mornings, late dusky days and ridiculously late evenings. If you drive the back roads of our suburban neighborhoods at night you understand that you’re more likely to hit a deer than another car. In fact, you’re more likely to see a deer before you encounter another human. It’s the nature of the environment.

But there he was, forcing me to slam brakes, utter curses, and wonder where the heck his mother was.

Oh, it was most definitely a boy.

And somewhere behind him was a worried doe. He was darting from the fold and into the surely-forbidden roadway in the heat of some testosterone-induced fit of fury, no doubt.

Why did the deer cross the road?

Likely, a girl on the other side.

Or judging from my own experience with teenage bucks of the human variety, it might have been some young stag tête-à-tête. A doe enticement might trump and triumph over a gathering of the same-sexed-species, but a party in the woods is still –well, a party.

And so they run into the festivities, roadways and regulations be damned.

In the deer’s case, an easy, albeit life-threatening hurdle, past my car accomplished his mission.

In my son’s case, I am also the impediment. Well, I, or my ridiculously constructed obstacles. Let see –there’s homework and chores –not much competition there. But then there are all those other mindlessly delaying (and utterly unnecessary, from his point of view) questions. Stupid ones like: Where are you going? With whom? And the worst –What time will you return to the herd?

Annoying is the term he most often uses to summarize my intrusions into his life. In less generous vocabulary, he’ll actually admit that he prefer if I didn’t speak at all. And there are times, I wish I could oblige. Certainly, setting him off to wander in the woods and the world on his own would entail less argument. Cutting him loose might indeed be freeing –for the both of us.

I understand freedom. I can’t tell him that, though. I can’t tell him that my sometimes faltering memory doesn’t yet include memory erasure of my own adolescent yearnings for freedom. I wouldn’t suggest that my own reply to “where are you going?” was generally the same as his: “out.” To which, by the way, his grandfather would always retort: “out’s a big place.” Which then also meant that I wasn’t really going out anywhere until I handed over details. Nor can I reveal too many of my own tools of circumvention.

My father loved the fact that the parlor grandfather clock granted gonging confirmation of just how late his little girl returned home from an evening out. And with all the times he carefully pulled those chains to assure accuracy of his beloved timepiece, you would have thought his gaze might have noted the “silence” option on the clock’s face and done some teenage math.

His most soundly sleeping nights, I believe, were not because I had come in early, as requested, but rather because they were uninterrupted by any gonging at all. In preparation of a late night out, I would always set the chimes to “silence.”

But I can’t tell Michael that I was once young. He wouldn’t believe me, anyway. I also can’t tell him that my tethering questions aren’t strictly motivated to constrain. It isn’t his freedom I fear so much, as it is everything else. I can’t tell him that at the end of any horror play of a parent’s imagination, her child is victim to more than his mere bravado against the boogeyman.

In rational moments, I do the math. Statistically speaking, Michael will be fine. We’ve safely skirted the childhood abduction scenarios simply through his own growth. He’s a big boy. And we don’t live in a danger zone where gang recruitment pulls from the alleyways.

In the sanest of days, I know all this. The days are rational. The nights –not so much.

So while I can swallow my caveats when Michael relates an after-the-fact-adventure, and attribute the harrowing details to youthful hyperbole, the replay of it all in my dreams is another matter. I bite away the criticisms I might render to keep the conversations coming –his words are now dispersed, as if from an eyedropper, in drips.

But I can’t overlook a blown curfew or a communication blackout. Especially when daylight can burn like a two-ended candle. The question of whether I am wasting precious time with inaction lurks like a skulking figure shadowed by the torch of media-lit klieg lights. If only, if only, I imagine, as I watch the eleven o’clock news recaps of the horrific turn-of-events that could have been forestalled by action –if only.

I try to rely on the math.

I do.

But then, from a family who cared and had the means to save him, how could he have fallen so deeply into the bottle? Why did another drugs from his friends as if they were gift-wrapped treasures, rather than the death knell they would become? A taken chance, a wrong split-second action, and gone –an airline ticket away to retrieve a body, instead of a boy. A motorcycle accident, a car crash. If losing a single child to a freak accident was such an aberration, then how was it possible to lose a second to an accident that could only, when set against his brother’s, be described as impossible?

These are the impossibilities we fear. They happen. They couldn’t, they shouldn’t, they do.

And that’s why the metaphor.

Somewhere there’s another young buck, on a mission.

And in the immortality of his soul and the passion of the moment, he tries to hurdle an accelerating automobile –and misses.

 

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