How do you get a teenager to talk? The usual questions—How was your day? Did you learn anything new—haven’t been so rewarding these last few years, and more often than not, yield curt, monosyllabic responses. I’ve tried other approaches, like sharing information I think will be interesting, or asking about the online games he’s playing. This last question is a sure mark if I want to hear about epic battles and head shots. Another bulls eye is a discussion about virtual reality glasses, which will spark a monologue on the many benefits of the Oculus Quest 2, all code language for reasons I should buy a pair for him.
Sometimes, as I sit at the table across from him as he eats his afternoon snack, I wait for the next time he looks up from his phone, hoping, silent. Other times, I say, ‘Hey, I’d love a little time.’
It’s a tricky age. Maybe I need a new set of questions. But I haven’t given up just yet. If you wait long enough, they’ll talk.
I heard that dogs hate doing the same walk over and over again, especially hunting dogs. So if I’m not in ‘default dog walking mode,’ I consciously choose a different direction. Once in a while, the alternate route brings me through a neighborhood that has a sculpture of a man and a woman sitting on a long curving bench, turned toward each other as if engaged in conversation. Placed in a natural curve where the sidewalk cuts through a stretch of green, it has an unobtrusive feel. It’s one of the few sculptures that I don’t mind seeing on a semi-regular basis, because it doesn’t demand my attention.
In the last few months, it’s been upgraded in my mind, as the idea of two people chatting on a park bench offers some throwback of normalcy in the time of corona. I also like to imagine who these two people are, a man and woman, looking up from their papers to chat. Sometimes, depending on my mood, they are lovers or cheaters, other times strangers, the one telling the other an anecdotal story. When I’m in a hurry, the woman is simply inquiring about the time. If I study her lips, I wonder if it’s not a he or she but a non-binary they.
Yesterday, when my dog and I approached the strangers on the benches, they had a glint in their eyes, which gave them entirely new expressions, one that made me laugh out loud. Certainly the work of teenagers.
I can’t quite picture a seventy-nine-year-old breaking out the goofy eyes and sticking them onto a sculpture. I could be wrong. But looking at them now, this man and woman, they have come more alive, as if the words are on the tips of their metal tongues, just waiting to spill forth. I bet if you wait long enough, they’ll talk.
This morning, after my son ate his breakfast and before his phone pulled him away, I asked him how he was doing, said I wouldn’t mind having a little time to talk. No subject. Just talk. It took a while, but after the monosyllabic answers to my questions (how did you sleep? What time are you catching the train to school?), I told him about someone who had passed away from Corona in our town, how she had done so much good in the world, how she wasn’t much older than I was.
He listened, and then he told me his own story, which flowed out of him. It was about a teacher at his school, overweight, with heart issues, who was now sick and teaching from home. ‘I really hope he doesn’t have corona,’ he said. ‘I’m worried about him.’
If you wait long enough, they’ll talk.