Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Puzzles and patterns

In the early years when Robert was hospitalized, I found myself drawn to the crossword puzzle in the Washington Post.  Before this, I was not much of a crossword or a puzzle fan.  I have a distinct memory of sitting out in the hallway on the pediatric ward at Georgetown, against one of those sterile green cinderblock walls, head down against whomever might be walking by and focusing my entire attention on the crossword puzzle.  

While inside Robert's room, something unpleasant was going on.  When he was 1-3 or so, they used to tell us it would be better if we left so he wouldn't associate pain with us.  I never really acclimatized myself to that--he never seemed that primitive.  And he did better if I stayed and whispered in his ear any platitudes that came to my mind, anything I was thinking about or that he could visualize.  

So to place a wall between my guilt at abandoning him, even at the insistence of professional medical types, and some kind of pain and terror on the other side, I would do the crossword puzzle.  

It was method.  And process.  And directions.  Most importantly, it could be completed, or, as they say, "solved."  Little conduits of words in squares and tracks that intersected one with the other.  Words blanched of content and emotion.  Denotation without connotation.  Language not as play, but as fencing that you build so you can force yourself to listen to your child scream and keep yourself from running in and wreaking havoc, mindlessly and intuitively.  

I don't do the crossword puzzle anymore.  Because I don't need to build those fences.  

What I do is listen to or watch baseball.  Baseball is a series and accretion of completions: the pitch from windup through release to the smack in the catcher's mitt.  The pattern of balls and strikes that accrues in varying patterns as the at-bat moves from start to finish, either through a completion of the count in the batter's favor or inattention, or shifted from one completion at the plate to another completion in the field: attaining base or fielded out.  And so on, as the plays add up and tally the three outs necessary to end each half-inning.  

Some games can proceed like clockwork.  Others are punctured and ruptured with hits and dramatic catches and wild pitches and fatal errors. But the counts and tallies click along and no game really remains unfinished.  Despite their differences one from the other.

This could be a metaphor.  Or the halves of the analogy could slide along one another without ever really aligning.  

Raising a disabled child involves some kind of yearning for completion: whether it is the little things, monitoring the count for each batter, or the big things, wondering when the hell the team will get that last effing out to get us all the hell out of this inning.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

and the agony of the tie and extra innings that go on, it seems like, for years.