Michael shook his head and focused, tried to close his mind on the memory. It was late and the office was failing to distract him. He stared on the client file in front of him and tried to make out the words, and then the sense of the words, and then the reason why each word was next to each other. What am I reading? he eventually asked in frustration, getting up from his desk. He walked toward the wall opposite him. Bracketing his college degrees were pictures of R- and Gabe. He looked at Gabe’s picture, snapped just as he broke away from a tackle, arm outstretched against the defender, ball positioned perfectly, legs pumping like warhorses. His eyes were straight in front of him and narrowed, determined.
Michael glanced over at R-’s pictures. Cambodia, the Himalayas, Greece and Rome, Spain – each one had R- looking outside the picture at a backdrop somewhere out in the world, somewhere that was not Spring. R- emailed his mother pictures whenever he remembered her, and they narrated an incomplete and fragmentary story of his time abroad, what he called his wandering years.
Michael did not spend long looking at them and shifted back to Gabe. Michael was a man of intellect and the public expression of it, he often fell into sermonizing the way others would daydream and when he looked at the world he saw in it a collection of objects waiting to be touched and lit up in the business of meaning-making. Yet beneath the lessons he was always crafting, a whirling pool of passions and emotion frothed. Out of the eyes of anyone he knew save his sons and his wife – and most of all out of his own eyes – Michael was a collection of motivations he did not acknowledge nor would understand had he. From this chaos came a strictly disciplined creation, a self creating a self that is not the actual self. At one time, when he was younger, perhaps Michael saw the thin cracks or the shoddy reparations of who he was transforming himself to be, but now he was his first true believer. Who he was had convinced himself that this is who he was.
And so he did not register the motivations that led him to return his gaze onto Gabe, emblazoned in his high school colors, almost machine-like. His sons, however, would explain it for him:
“There is more than the obvious interpretation. It is clear that our father respects Gabe’s athletic prowess more than R-’s wandering, but one must ask why and one must take the question all the way to the end of itself. First: why athletics over wandering? This and all of these questions are not asked in a void so we can hint that the disappointment of our father towards R- did not begin when R- bought a plane ticket.
We could say it began in college as R- chose to major in French, and this is partially true. Choosing to major in the humanities was the first incursion into reality what our father feared: that R- would not join him in Spring, that his first son had fallen away from the path he believed was not only right, but the only one.
Still, this does not go quite far enough. In high school R- signed up for cross country, the only sport offered that really appealed to him. He thought about running through Spring, what it would mean to get used to your own body as your means of transportation instead of the vehicles we are accustomed to. He wanted to feel true exhaustion, and simultaneously see the world around him as he ran through it. The first meet had a course that used a country rode for a short stretch, passing a wooded area. As R- paced himself past the trees he saw a rainbow glow from one of the branches off of the path. He slowed, and eventually stopped. What could make such colors? What in nature had he so purely never learned of that here it was, emitting colors than hit him like he was finally, only now, opening his eyes? He walked to the tree, but the glare from the sun hid whatever had taken in and smashed apart the light into all of its colors. He climbed the tree and felt the bark scrape against his legs. Once he was high enough he pushed away the leaves and saw – a glass bottle.
The natural disappointment never registered in R-. He reached over and grabbed the bottle, held it with awe as he scaled down the tree. Once down, his questions restarted: how did a bottle get to the top of a tree? And what had kept it there for so long? As it was not particularly wedged into the branch, was this all a very recent event? He walked as he tried to imagine the possibilities. You have to dismiss the possibility of a passing car throwing it out of the window, the tree was too far away, and the bottle was too high in the canopy. Could a bird have taken it? He did not see how: the bottle was thick and heavy, and he did not see a nest or any other materials on the branch. And how much could a bird carry at once?
His daydreams were finally interrupted by a car horn behind him. He turned around to see his father in the car next to his mother, shaking his head behind the wheel, and R- remembered the meet. His father told him that the meet had ended almost an hour ago, that no one knew where he was except his mother. Lynn had remained calm and only smiled as Michael took the keys, agitated, and drove off with her to find him.
So what is the point? It is not athletics, and it is not only that R- implicitly refused the career his father desired for him. The point is that R- stepped outside of the entire matrix of comprehensibility his father had engineered.
This, he would say, is all fine and good. Who would not like to learn a language? Who would not want to travel? He would smile as if to say Yes, me too, I would like to do these things, before focusing his eyes. But where would we be, if everyone attached themselves to their whims and desires? Can the world run on wandering? At some point comes responsibility, R-. And this is the composition of true life.
Even this is a red herring. Do not be deceived: responsibility is an evaluative term for our father. What is one responsible for? Why is one responsible? You do not get to choose the answer, it has been set from the first days of time. Our father will open Genesis and read the poem of the world’s origins: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth from the internal responsibility to Himself and He did it well, He did it better than it could have been done, it was the Best. The culmination of His responsibility was void and formless and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters ready to coax the Best. And he spoke creation into being and said, each day, this is the best of possible achievements.
We learned the poise of listening, and the act of dismissing. R- had left the world of our father by leaving it. Gabe felt his own steps picking up speed as he came near the corners of Spring, saw the end.”
Whether Gabe was truly leaving or rather collecting the movements of leaving, showing the mien of maturity, was another question. In his heart Gabe too created not for creation, or for curiosity, or for any silly, empty word like love or care. He created for the Best, attached like a wire from his chest to the spire of a great tower, and he hand over hand began to climb.
Michael turned away from the picture. He could not stop thinking about Gabe, could not stop thinking about R-, or the letter, or the day. He walked back to his desk and reflected again on the memory of football in the yard with Gabe. That summer was the first that Gabe had overcome his father on the field. Gabe had turned his shoulders vertically, and the lower shoulder caught his father’s arm at an awkward angle. Michael had fallen to the ground and at first Gabe thought it was one of his usual jokes, so he tossed the ball at his body and began to jog inside. Half an hour later, Michael came into the house nursing his shoulder. He couldn’t move his arm and after an impromptu trip to the hospital, they learned he had torn his rotator cuff.
Michael smiled sadly at the memory. The first time Gabe hurt me, he thought, and then thought of R-’s letter. R- had begun the letter in his usual style, a collection of thoughts and half-thoughts, quotes and questions that by the end congealed into a more or less coherent expression. The quote that began this letter was from a philosopher whose name Michael had already forgotten. The qoute he had not:
If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the foundation of all there lay only a wildly seething power which writhing with obscure passions produced everything that is great and everything that is insignificant, if a bottomless void never satiated lay hidden beneath all–what then would life be but despair?
He felt himself on the edge of maudlin, and so he sat down again at his desk. He pulled back the bottom drawer and removed his Bible. It was large and heavy, bound in cracked leather that betrayed its age. To pause the world, he half thought.