For a while, my son Athen hung out with a girl. They did their homework on the living room floor. Sometimes, they whispered. He was telling her something. I came in the room once, and Athen jumped like I’d interrupted an intimate moment, so I smiled. It was perfectly natural to like a girl.
The girl went home. Now, Athen comes upstairs with a boy, the two of them shoulder-to-shoulder, a smell sharp as animals that have paddled an ocean. They prop their skateboards against a wall near the door. The other boy has a smudge across his cheek. Athen asks if we have sodas.
“Sure, I’ll get them.”
“Thank you,” the other boy says.
Athen wipes the smudge from his face. I give them sodas.
The other boy watches him. I watch the other boy.
Once, Athen wasn’t doing well in school. He drew pictures in his notebooks rather than math formulas. He wasn’t turning in his history or social studies assignments either. One teacher said, “Maybe Athen has ADD.” She waited for me to agree something was wrong with my son. She said, “At least make sure he’s aware of the consequence.” As if it were me who didn’t know. I went home and threatened my baby. “I’ll ground you the rest of your life.” So he passed eighth grade.
Now, he leaves the apartment with this boy. They weave between parked cars on their skateboards, shirt tails flapping behind them. Athen approaches a pothole, hops it, lands, and falls. I yell at him out the window. “Athen, be careful!” He’s never afraid for himself. The other boy rushes over, helps him up. A person might miss it. I move away from the window, hear how they coast away, know they’ve gone around a corner together.