Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Coat

It all started with a swim meet, and a team from Iowa that traveled in a huge bus down to southern New Mexico. At first, I was a mom accompanying the team. The meet was over and I had a chance to swim.

So I jumped in and swam and swam and swam -- not wanting to end it. The other two swimmers (members of the team) were much faster and adept than I, but it didn't matter; I still had fun. (It occurred to me that I was so much better than I had ever been before. But still, why am I so slow? Oh, then I'd remember to kick my feet.) Then it was time to get ready to leave. The swimming pool was on a level at the top of a spire, and the next level down was wider and had more swimming pools. We looked over the edge and could see a kiddie pool filled with playing children. The girl swimmer next to me said something I couldn't catch, but at the end it sounded like "weenie." I bent down to pick up a piece of glass at our bare feet; the girl bent down as if to pick up a pebble, said it again, "This hotel is so sweeny," and jumped -- dived -- headfirst down into the kiddie pool. I thought she'd died -- I heard and felt two booms -- when she hit the water and when she hit the bottom.

Someone took a picture of it and posted it on the Internet and everyone knew about the stupid thing this girl did. But she was alive! And apparently unharmed. I told her I thought she was dead, and she spread her arms as if offering me to look -- not even a bruise. I retorted, "That doesn't mean anything. You can really deep bruises that don't show up for hours." Then we had to inform the coach, who was perhaps the ONLY person in the hotel who didn't know what happened. The girl was in trouble.

But she told everyone she had slipped or someone had pushed her. I kept my mouth closed, but had to decide whether I would lie with her or tell the truth -- what I saw -- when the time came. Surely they would ask me. But I liked the girl. Still I decided if and when the officials asked me I'd tell the truth. I figured the girl would be banned from any more swim meets, but oh well. She was a senior and this had been her last swim meet, anyway. Oh, and maybe she wouldn't be awarded the medals for her performance this meet.

So we all piled into the bus, which was more like a private RV. The guy driving was the owner, one of the dads. I was in the back, so I couldn't see the road signs as they came up. But I was able to point out things I like about New Mexico to the women and kids around me. At one point, we were sitting at a perfect vantage point to see the Sandias looming above us. I pointed out La Luz trail, told how high the mountain was in altitude, how high from the valley floor, etc. (The kids were listening with interest! Well, I guess if they were from Iowa . . .)

At some point, I realize that I'm seeing signs for some car dealership, and the signs look like regular highway signage. I go to the front and ask, "Are we lost?" No, says the navigating wife. No, says the driver. "Do we have a map?" I'm always needing to check a map. I love maps and rely on them. We don't have one.

Well, I don't think this is right. We're going into mountains, but the road is too wide, the curves too broad, for the type of road I expected for going over the pass. Sure enough, this "highway" is a dead end, luring unsuspecting travelers to a car dealership (Geo and Chevrolet). We stop at the end and work to turn the huge RV around. Everyone's disgusted with the deceit and without saying anything to the dealer, who's trying to get us to stay for awhile, we show our disgust with our expressions. So now we're going back the way we came. And I'm thinking of the correct road ahead and getting scared.

"I don't know," I tell the driver. "Maybe we need to reconsider this going over the pass." The road I know has hairpin turns -- ones I'm not sure this monster would be able to negotiate. I try to get the driver to take the long way around, using the freeways, but the driver assures me this baby can handle the turns. Well, okay. So we pick another road that seems like it. We go higher and higher in elevation and the road becomes dirt, then mud, and narrower and narrower, and I'm getting really scared, but there's no going back and no where to turn around.

We take a break next to railroad tracks. One of the women, the wife of the driver, has a bag of rails and for some reason she's shaking it, and the rails fall out, all over the tracks in the ground. And there's a train coming and we don't have time to pick up the rails, and we know it's going to cause the train to derail. We just barely have time to pile back into the RV.

A MAN comes to get us. No, that's not quite right. HE is going to come get us. In the meantime, we are to dress like we dress normally (actually, we gathered this meant with an entire outfit, including coats, gloves, etc.) And HE will tell us what we have to give up (in payment for causing the train's derailment?)

Now I left out the disjointed conversations going on in the back during our trip -- what was going to happen to the girl who dived into the kiddie pool, whether we should disguise ourselves (everyone was wearing a t-shirt with the team name on it) in case the whole world knows of this girl's stupidity and cover up our team name with jackets, etc. I had put aside my own jacket and another dad (a grandfather riding with us) had folded it and tied all the ties in firm knots.

Already, people are being called out, one by one. What they have to "give up" is usually little -- even as small as a thread -- and they place it on a flat open space at the front of the bus. But I have no idea of the significance of these things to the person having to give them up. They could be really, really important.

I am fumble-fingered at getting the knots on my folded jacket undone. And when I put on my glasses, they fall apart, and I'm having to put them on, piece by piece -- first the frames, oops, no, put the nose cushions on the frames first (people help me find those, and find a girl's lost earring in the process), and then pop the lenses in, and now I can see to untie the knots on my jacket.

I am acutely aware of the time passing, and my turn is coming up. What if I don't have my jacket on in time? What if I present myself not as I normally am? I am afraid. (Although the MAN is a shadowy figure like the Wizard of Oz was behind the curtain, it feels like HE is God and can do anything to us.)

Then it happens. Boone, my son, refuses to put his coat on. "I made him wear that for killing Olade," my husband says. I am aghast. But not completely in denial. Boone goes before the MAN without his coat on -- exposed. And I hear, like a whisper in the wind, I forgive him the sin. It felt like Boone was rejecting the identity that wearing the coat would mean. And because he rejected it and opened himself up even more, he received more than any of the rest of us.

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