Peaches and Screams

The story currently goes like this:

I was 10, and back then, there was no interstate-40 to take you to the beach. So instead, people went down 70 and then over on 52 and down on 10. They were two-lane roads and everyone went 60, 65, just going through to get to wherever they were really going. Except we would sometimes stop at those roadside stands. Usually for peaches, or else for tomatoes. I love those stands off the road, in the country. I can just imagine it, the way that the peach juice would trickle out of my mouth. And my dad always said that peach juice tastes better when you are eating them in a car.

We were at one of those road-side stands and we were going to get some peaches to eat when we got to Carolina Beach. We would have eaten some right away, of course, but then we would save some for breakfast on the porch. There were ten of us in the station wagon.We got out of the car but then everyone was just standing around. I didn’t understand why we weren’t crossing.

I don’t know, maybe it was just the chaos of the moment. I swear that I looked to my left, and then to my right, and then back to the left. Except that I guess I didn’t look to see over Tapi’s shoulder. Because, you know, he was so much taller than me. Especially at that age, I was such a shrimp. Susie and dSusie, both so short. That’s what we were. Anyway, I didn’t look over Tapi’s shoulder. I started across the road. The peach stand was right there.

Now, remember, cars are going so fast here because there’s nothing between here and the beach except a few small towns.

I wouldn’t have known to even see the truck. I think it was red. It was one of those semi’s, barreling down at 60 miles per hour. To this day, I’m sure that the driver never even knew that I was there, because it all happened too fast.

My dad saw it first. “Oh my God!” he yelled.  I could hear in the pitch of his voice that he was terrified. “Susie!” he yelled. He yelled as loud as he could. I just knew, when I heard his voice, that something was very bad.  I jumped when I heard it. Literally. I didn’t jump back. I jumped across to the other lane. Who knows what was coming from that way. I just knew my dad’s voice.  Not even a second later, the truck blasted right past where I had just been standing. I was crying by the time I hit the pavement. An hour later, I was still crying, curled up inside my mother’s arms.

I still think about the way he said it: “Oh My God!” I think that God must have heard him and said, “okay, she can live, but she’s mine.”

– – –

By the time our children were three or four, they had learned to triage my voice. There’s a general parent drone that they can ignore. “Let’s go,” the voice says. “No, really, did you hear what I said,” the voice will say. “That’s your sister’s, put it down.” The voice says that, too. Often, the voice follows up with a rejoinder: “Did you hear me! I said put it down. Now!” The voice talks, but does anyone listen?

But kids learn that there is a different pitch that they should not ignore. It is a voice that no one calls upon on purpose. I use it occasionally. Today I used it when Rosie fell off her scooter in the middle of crossing Gregson Avenue at 8:30 a.m.

What worries me is that John has a hard time hearing that voice. Not too long ago, we were out for a walk through a relatively deserted suburban development in Salisbury. One of those places where they built a bunch of $400,000 McMansions that never found buyers. The place has perfectly smooth pavement and spotless sidewalks, and relatively little traffic. It is great for skateboarding. What makes it so unnerving is that there is still some traffic. So you never know. Is this the corner where John is going to breeze by a Land Cruiser?

John did that, and I made that voice-altering cry.  “John!….John..look out!”

It is not that slow-motion kind of scream. It’s a high-pitched cry of weakness. It’s a “help, I can’t protect my child and he is in trouble” kind of sound. I can say that to Rosie any minute of the day and it will stop her cold. She might even begin to cry if she sees me worried like that. John doesn’t have that wiring.

Susie thinks that there are unique challenges for parents of adopted children. This is one of them. Maybe there is something in our biology that puts some kind of synapse between parent and child. Well, we don’t have it with him.

Of course, it isn’t as if my connection with John is categorically different from my relationship with Rosie. Nowadays, it is the exception to the rule when I even think of him as an adopted son. It has been too long since we made that rip to Russia. Sure, there are times when I wonder just how tall he is going to be. When I see him play baseball or master his bicycle by age three, I wonder how long it will be until our athletic trajectories are irrevocably distinct. When he tells me that he’s using a new set of dynamic ranges on his Hedwig Theme, I realize that it won’t be much longer before he ceased to believe that I would play it just as well if I was only giving it some attention.  Children bring too much into life. One descriptor can’t contain all that they mean. It sounds like a horror movie: Your son won’t hear you when you scream…but it’s actually a good show.


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