There aren’t any sidewalks in our area of town – people walk on the side of the road, and because New England roads are ridiculously narrow, I usually get a good look at the pedestrians I try not to hit. One person in particular catches my eye more often than others. G. wears a baseball cap and a windbreaker with a logo on it, a weathered look to go with his smile and nod as I drive by. His graying hair curls out from under the cap, a little longish, his mustache, too, a little full. When I first knew him fifteen years ago G. had a fresh from the barber haircut and clipped mustache, starched button down shirts, blazer and a late model Volvo.
G. is not a victim of hard times, but then again maybe he is. He is a respected professional who surrendered his license for ethics violations – hubris and nemesis as writ in the early 21st century. I am nosy; I read the public file on the case. He was never indicted so it is impossible to say for certain whether he was guilty of poor judgment or something worse, but he made decisions that permitted illegal, sometimes dangerous activities. It didn’t surprise me completely; he had always seemed bizarrely flip and distant. He gave strangely vague answers to specific questions: “What time should the kids be home?” “Whenever you get tired of them just send them back.” Things like that. It rankled me enough to tell my own children that they could only go to his home to play if his wife was there. He didn’t come off as creepy, just as a distracted eccentric.
His sartorial evolution from professional class to working class reminds me that no life has a steady upward trajectory. I empathize with him even though I am fairly sure he is oblivious to what anyone has ever thought about him. His peaks and valleys are plain to see, but we all have them and we all try to spin them or hide them in one way or another as best we can. Some people have the luxury of keeping their travails private, but like G., we cannot – we have a child with a disability, and in order to get him what he needs, we need to tell people more than we want to about our challenges. It is maddening to have to sit across the table month after month and ask people to lower, raise and rework expectations for a mercurial child; to know that they think you can do better but that they are reluctant to do anything differently on their end. They probably think I am a distracted eccentric. The expression of fear mixed with pity is enough to send you to bed for a week.
But G. didn’t go to bed and neither have I. He found something else to do with his life, and so have I. Sometimes it means fielding looks from people who will never understand, but sometimes it also means wearing more comfortable clothes.