Monday, June 11, 2012

Into the Game 004

The zoo was everything I'd hoped for: animals, activities, education. I think we spent about five hours there, all told -- if you want to count lunch, anyway. We talked a lot about the different kinds of animals, the different environments that they lived in, and the countries where those environments could be found.

When it finally got too hot, we got back in the car and I drove on to the suburban neighborhood where Tom3 lived with his mother and her new husband. I called ahead to let them know we were coming, and was told that they'd have dinner waiting. On the way, Tom3 and I talked about what we'd seen at the zoo, and what we'd liked best. I asked him if he'd had a good time, and he said he had.

"Bladefang liked it too," he assured me.

It wasn't a terribly long drive; half the time it had taken us to get to the zoo, maybe less. And because of the way we'd chosen our neighborhoods, it would take me only a little longer to get from their house to mine, than it had taken to get from mine to the zoo. I had the route committed to memory, a method I preferred to any of the electronic forms of navigation available. Sharon had always thought that was funny, but Tom3 never mentioned it. If he noticed, he didn't care.

The house was a medium-sized two-story structure near the middle of the street. They'd chosen well, I thought: there were several full-grown trees around to offer shade for house and yard, the location gave them access to good schools, and the rest of the street was varied but well-kept.

Tom3 glanced up at the house when we stopped. His face was expressionless -- either blithely indifferent, or perfectly controlled, and I couldn't tell which -- but he hopped out and collected his things from the back seat with no sign of tension. He hadn't packed much; he never did. His bag of clothing was only a little larger than the case that held his game pieces, and probably weighed less. He didn't seem particularly happy or sad about being back home, but then he never seemed particularly happy or sad about visiting me, either.

I followed him up to the front door, where Sharon and Adrian were waiting. Tom3 hugged them both, then slipped past them and disappeared into the depths of the house. He hadn't said goodbye, but that was fine. I didn't like saying goodbye, either.

"You want to stay and eat?" asked Adrian. "We did burgers on the grill, and we've got plenty to go around."

I hesitated. I think I would have liked Adrian, if he hadn't been married to my Ex. As it was, the best I could manage was a sort of distant courtesy. Eating with them would be awkward, and not because of them; because of me. "No," I said, as deprecatingly as I could manage. "Well, I have to get back to work on this project."

Adrian nodded as if he understood, but I saw Sharon's eyes narrow slightly. She might not be bothered by it, but she knew I was lying. "You guys have a good night, though," I added.

I made it three steps down the front walk before Sharon said, "Tom?"

I turned back, and saw that Adrian, too, had disappeared inside the house. Sharon was still standing on the step; now she came forward. "You've seen this game he's playing, right?" It was clear from her tone that she was talking about our son.

I nodded.

"What did you think?" She studied my face. "Is it like the things you used to play?"

I sort of smiled-and-sniffed at the same time. "Yes," I told her. "I mean, not exactly. The games I grew up on had big, heavy, hard-bound books, and no cards -- but we had little figurines, and maps to place them on, and... yeah, it's very much the same thing."

"Okay, good." She looked relieved.

I looked a question at her, and she explained: "One of the neighborhood moms dropped by. She's convinced the game is dangerous and satanic. Said the little statues were actually familiar spirits, and she'd heard one talking to her little girl."

"Heh," I said. "Now it's really like the games I grew up with." I shook my head, remembering...

After a moment, I said: "I heard Tom3 talking to one of his figurines in his room, too - but it was just him, taking turns and speaking for both of them. Roleplaying." I shook my head again, more slowly. "I've watched them play. It's just a game, and it's probably better for his basic math skills than anything the school could come up with. I mean, if it starts interfering with his homework..."

A slight shake of Sharon's head indicated that that wasn't the case.

"...but otherwise, I wouldn't worry about it."

"Great," she said. "And, thanks." She hesitated. "I'm glad you're still in his life, you know."

"Me, too," I said. And, since that was about as much solidarity as we were likely to get, I added: "Good night."

"Good night," she said. We didn't embrace, or even shake hands; we just turned and walked away from each other. Ours was a relatively amicable divorce, and we'd been divorced for five years, now, but some wounds just don't heal. Or, maybe that's not right. I had a friend in high school who broke his leg in a skateboarding accident. He favored it for years, even after it healed completely; he couldn't seem to break the habit. Maybe that was a better analogy: even after the wounds had healed, we couldn't stop guarding our scars.

What we still had in common was Tom3, a shared concern for his welfare and an agreement to put his needs ahead of everything else. Adrian wanted us all to be friendly, but Sharon and I had figured out years ago that we couldn't be in the same house and still be civil. In e-mail, easily; over the phone, sure; but in person, it just wasn't reliable. Too close, too intimate, too much the way things used to be. So we remained friendly, as much as we could - and that meant keeping ourselves at a safe distance.

Being a grownup really sucks, sometimes.

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