Ann Carlson was not the world’s greatest mother. Oh, she had love in spades but it takes a bit of practical knowledge to make the world go ’round when kids are sick and have thrown up everywhere, or are scared in the night and just need the right word pulled out of nothing to make the demons go far, far away. She got better at raising little Abel as the years went by, but her method of child raising at first was a combination of Lucy Ricardo, a well-worn copy of Dr. Spock, and whatever bits of self-help she could glean from neighbors and the odd passers-by. Walter did his part – when he was around – but his work called him, and the never-ending chase of the almighty dollar in order to provide for a family was a hard and relentless taskmaster.
Walter was a proverbial jack of all trades and also, unfortunately, master of none. He tried his hand at carpentry, television repair, running a train at an amusement park, street sweeping, and night watchman. He even sold dishware door to door for about three weeks until he realized how horrible he was at it. Mr. Carlson tried it all, doing anything that was legal to make a buck.
In their pursuit of the American dream, the little family had to move several times mostly due to Walter’s finding new work in equally new and semi-exotic places and partly due to at least on a couple of occasions simply staying one step ahead of the bill collectors. It was not a pretty existence and Walter hated it. Ann less so, because she had her hands full and was distracted with Abel and also she knew that Walter was simply the most amazing human being she had ever come across and loved him without reservation. She would follow him and stand by him come what may. Bumpy ride be damned.
All of this had a huge effect on Abel, as one might predict. A sensitive and shy child, constantly changing schools taxed his personality to the Nth degree. Oh, it got easier after the sixth or seventh time for him. After making friends and having to leave them almost on a moment’s notice – let alone at the end of a term – was difficult for any child let alone Abel. He cried himself to sleep many times, and began to fear the opening of pieces of luggage in the same way that other children feared monsters under the bed.
On one memorable occasion in his school outside Memphis in the springtime when junior high crushes seem to be in as full of bloom as backyard dandelions, Abel met his first love: Casey. He loved the name and the way she looked sitting two seats in front and one row over in History class, and – in a case of heaven meets earth – directly next to him in Health 101. He loved the way she smiled and her sense of humor; her laugh and the way she answered questions; the way her eyes danced and the way he loved talking to her and sharing all his deepest secrets. He was smitten, entirely and completely so. An entire semester’s worth of studies concerning the Spanish-American war and communicable diseases were wasted because Abel’s heart was making a Custer’s Last Stand at the Alamo. Or some such stuff. History was soooo boring when one falls in love.
At the school ending party, Abel and Casey sat on the edge of the concrete abatement near the boy’s gym and talked and talked while happiness and unbundled bundles of testosterone and estrogen-in training frolicked around them. With the rays of the setting sun streaming through the windows behind and illuminating them perfectly for a precious and perfect moment in time, they kissed. An awkward, unsure kiss all the same but Abel was beside himself with joy. They snuck a couple more in before Mr. Palmer and Mrs. Grabauski – the chaperones – stepped in like love fascists in training and broke up the whole party.
After walking Casey home – and yet another kiss – he positively floated home and could not wait to tell his parents of what he had found. He sprinted up the driveway and the three porch steps and flew open the door; except for the soft sound of the kitchen radio, he found silence. “Mom? Dad? Where are you?” he called. Silence. And then he knew.
Slowly, with great trepidation and an equal amount of fear, he descended the basement stairway. A left turn at the bottom and ten steps across the tan linoleum floor led him to his parent’s room. Without knocking – it wasn’t necessary when one knew what was to be found – he entered. There, across the bed were three opened and half-filled suitcases; two purposeful parents emptied nearby dressers.
“Mom? Want to hear what happened at the school tonight?” Abel thought that he could just “normal” the situation away, trying to give restorative power to simple utterances when not even a rock rolling downhill could change what was about to happen.
“Mom? Want to hea…” This time his mother interrupted him. “Get your things together, Abel. We have to go.”
Abel spun on his heels, ran up the stairs and outside into the night. He took solace in a double row of pine trees on the north end of their backyard. Running in between them, he stopped and waited. No sound came from the house. Yet. But he knew it would. Either his mother or more likely his father would come looking, offering a kind word about making new friends or some such crap that meant less and less each time he heard it. Exhausted from the night, the kiss, the suitcases, and the warm spring temperatures, he lay down and slept and dreamed the dreams that tortured souls invariably do.
When the morning came and the wheels of the Chrysler began to turn in the direction of someplace in Ohio, Ann Carlson turned to her disconsolate half sitting, half slouching son in the back seat. She reached in her purse and pulled out a well-worn and pocket-sized leather-covered book. “I found this at the thrift store, Abel. It’s for you. When I read what is inside of it, I thought of you. And of how much you’re loved.” Abel’s father, as almost always, was wordless.
After a moment’s hesitation, Abel took the book. Opening it, he found that it was completely blank except for one lonely page in the middle upon which were found these obviously aged, worn and handwritten words: “In all things, seek Peace. Let it flow down upon you like a misty night in the deepest of the deeps. Lift yourself up to it and hide yourself in the fog of calmness, for the floating water will ease you in your hour of despair. For as the water swims impossibly on the air, so can you if you let it and believe it can happen.”
Abel read the words twice, closed the book and wordlessly dropped it to the floor. Then, with the rhythm of the once-again moving wheels as his lullaby, he fitfully slept.