Sad boy and your words

Explanatory note: I thought this project would be a lot of poems and instead it’s turning into a bunch of maudlin letters. Oh well, I’m just going to lean into it.

Querido m’hijo, you have probably already figured this out, but I just want to make it explicit and direct: I love our conversations. Sometimes we do absurdist bits, all nonsense and bombast with both of us trying to outdo the other; sometimes we’re reviewing the day’s news and exclaiming angrily at the world; occasionally we’re talking about dreams and fears and hearts. And every stage, every year brings a new word or phrase that you share, that I need to learn by echoing you, by using it even when I’m not sure what you mean.

In a funny way, this began when you were a toddler. You wouldn’t just mimic our words with toddler declensions–like when “gol” becomes “dol” or “bravo” becomes “bavo”–no, you would also declare your own language that was mostly impenetrable: “baydo,” “patete,” or, one of my favorites, “no?”–that, when accompanied with a shrug we could figure out stood for “I don’t know.”

School and friends brings a different sort of new language; when you share the words with me, I know you’re sharing these worlds with me, helping me see the contours of your map. One of my recent favorites is “dank meme.” I don’t think I ever really quite understood it the way you did, but I sort of did. Enough, anyway.

Recently you’ve been using the phrase “sad boy.” I’m not sure where it came from, but there’s no “happy boy” that pairs with it. It stands alone. It’s a phrase that comes out when you’re pointing to something hard and sad and emotional. I don’t remember the first time I heard you say it, but I remember the most recent time: when we listened to Dear Evan Hansen together. [1] We were listening to Ben Platt (as Evan Hansen) sing “For Forever,” a song that sings a friendship that never existed into being. With his words, Evan is rewriting his own lonely life for Connor’s parents, after Connor’s suicide. It is a song that pretends to remember happiness when it actually dances around all sorts of sadness: of loss, of loneliness, of love never experienced. You turned to me and said, “sad boy.” It was all you could say; we both had tears in our eyes. All I could do was wrap my arms around you and squeak out, “his parents!”

“Sad boy” is such an understatement. It’s not just an understatement; the phrase doesn’t even cover the amount of ground it needed to. Sad boy? Sad boys. Sad boys–becoming-men. Sad parents. Sad moment. Sad families. Devastated. Overwhelmed. Undone. Unraveled. Despondent. Sad boy. But in its imperfections, yours was also such a perfect statement, m’hijo. How in the world can words ever fully recognize and circumscribe such complicated emotions? “Sad boy.”

You are the same age as Evan Hansen is. You are also just a boy, though you are also on your way to becoming a man. Do sad boys get to be sad men? Will you be as kind to yourself as you are to this sad boy we’re listening to?

Me, I couldn’t even name an approximation of my feelings: “His parents!” But when we looked at each other, I knew that there was something about this clumsy communication–the bluntness and inadequacy of “sad boy” and the strangled cry of “his parents!”–because we break down sobbing.

We arrived at no words through clumsy words. And when we were with no words, I felt so very close to you. I could glimpse the sadness you felt through Evan and I knew you could get a sense of the sorrow I felt through Connor’s parents. There, in that moment–and also now, forever, in this letter–I think we trusted each other with this messy sadness: of Dear Evan Hansen, but also of life.

You know, and I know that you know, that I am holding my breath as you prepare to jet away, under your own steam, in a little less than a year. If I breathe too rapidly, too loudly, you will fall away from me much too quickly, and I could not bear that. I know, and you know that I know, that you are eager to fly away and, let’s be honest, you’re ready to leave.

When the time comes, I’ll breath a sigh out and say … well, I’m not sure what words we’ll use then. We’ll need a new language for a new world.

 

Notes

[1] I told you so!

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