I can’t share this. This is for the words and I alone, the paper, the black and the white and the neat little fences it creates. I need a fence right now – God knows I need a fence.

I have a feeling in my chest and I don’t like it – I know what it is – empathy. I have felt it before, ached for other people’s problems, carried their troubles and it never got me anywhere or anything. It got me less than that – it sucked the energy from my own life, drained my face and put my health in very real danger.

I am the only adult he talks to – that is to say, I am his only friend. People want things from him – some of them his time, most of them want his money. I hear he has tons of it, so much that he couldn’t spend it all if he wanted to – and he doesn’t want to, of course. He wants to live a normal life and make a difference in the world and whatever his high, high ideals dictate. Ideals like that have no place in the real world, have no place with the expectations of his parents, the derision of his beautiful wife. He is getting thinner, paler, but no one notices. They still light up and eye him all over, head to toe and back again, wanting just a little bit of that pie, maybe feigning attraction, maybe feeling it because not only is he not bad looking, he’s got so many immensities of things wrapped up inside him.

I didn’t know I was his friend. I am just a teacher, and he is a parent, and all of our discourses have been cordial, removed, at least four feet of space between us. I noticed his answers seemed uncharacteristically honest – but that could have just been his style, his m.o., his swagger. He apologized for a late pick up the other day that turned into an outpouring of soft-spoken – because he is always soft-spoken, to an annoying fault – confessions of how he is failing not only this school and the teachers but also his parents and siblings and his life is falling apart and he does not know from what end to hold it, does not know how to take hold of it in the least.

Of course I steered the conversation delicately back into the school realm, back to his son, and he cut me off politely and said “Do whatever you want with him. Punish him -”

“Punish!” I exclaimed. “Where do you think you are! I do not intend to punish him!”

“Or don’t punish him. I’m trying to say that I trust you completely, Lola, to do whatever you see fit. He is happy. Thank you. I will accept whatever you tell me.”

I have a friend who, whenever he receives shocking news – particularly bad or particularly strange – falls, a little, sideways. I’ve laughed and laughed at this tendency because there is nothing on the good flat modern ground to fall off, but I think I understand him today.