Shreveport"You will be assassinated by ninjas," Eli 12.4 said, reading the results of his cootie catcher as we all sat together in a restaurant in Shreveport.
Ten minutes later, I passed him a note scrawled on a napkin in crayon:
That assassination, did you mean now? Because I would totally take that.
That describes the trip as well as anything.
We had moments, like we always do. We played tennis for two hours each day at a lovely tennis center with the nicest people imaginable. That tennis center is our oasis, the only time each day when no one expects anything from either one of us.
The rest of the time, the overwhelming sensation in Shreveport is of letting people down.
I've taken 28 trips to Shreveport, and now I'm almost the same age as Gloria's mother the first time I met her. I see the numbers, but it's hard to understand.
These trips have always been hard, but when Eli was very young, he temporarily stemmed the tide.It was enough that his grandmother paid constant attention to him. They engaged. They were both happy to be with each other.
It's awkward now, though. His grandmother has led a very sheltered, isolated life. A small life, and I don't mean that in a judgmental way, just a factual one. What she talks about only rarely extends beyond her front yard, and never beyond the city she lives in.
Eli is the exact opposite. Even though he's only twelve, his life is big. He can talk about almost anything, and what he's done and what he hopes to do are always big. I love that about him.
When a person with a small life tries to talk to a person with a big life, there's not much to say in either direction. His grandmother desperately wants to feel connected to him, but he can't feel connected unless he's able to engage first, and there is no common ground for engagement.
Gloria's family is in an unhappy situation, and has been for a long time. We're a little burst of sunshine that can make it better, but somehow it always goes in the opposite direction: instead of making them feel better, we feel worse.
For a long time, I believed I could make it better. I encouraged. I took positive action. I thought I was the magic ingredient, because who doesn't want to be the magic ingredient?
Like everything else beyond the confines of the house, though, I was irrelevant.
I'm a positive person, but for those four days a year, there's nothing positive to be found. I plod through the days, the story already written, just a character in a book with an unhappy ending.