Not too long ago, during the quiet days of early Fall when the oppressive heat of our summer had subsided, and the vibrant colours of late September cooled our scorched brows, my puppy and I were out for a long mid afternoon walk. Cooper loves to meet new people, he never lacks for enthusiasm, or conversation during our walks, and that day was no exception.
As we were returning down the path, lazily following the creek back to the park near our home, five young teens, boys beginning to morph into men, could be seen meandering from the path to our left, followed closely by three girls who straggled a short distance behind. The boys were a stretch of arms and legs, all of them trying to adjust to their growth spurts from the summer months. They were dressed in like outfits, and their walk labeled them as cool as they worked to perfect that stilted, hips barely moving, awkward strut that comes from wearing baggy pants. They ignored the girls, the girls ignored the boys, but they all stayed in close proximity as if tied together by an invisible thread.
One of the boys, he appeared to be the leader (for that day anyway), had a fedora set jauntily on his head, the hat matched well with his jacket and saggy bottoms, and he sported an unlit cigarette held, oh so casually, between his fingers. This acquisition seemed to cause a stir amongst the group, but it appeared to be for show only, for it remained unlit. They sauntered, and swaggered, all the while flinging their voices high above them, a mating call thrown out and back to the female gaggle nearby. And still the girls ignored them.
As they approached the road that separated us from the continuation of the park path, the boys did not see the approaching van as they stepped out. I called to them as the van driver slowed, and watched as all of them, the girls included, flowed around the van like determined army ants. Somehow, during my call for their safety, and their onward stride, Cooper and I ended up in the middle of the bunch, the boys a step ahead of us, the girls remaining like quiet sentries at our back. None seemed to notice us, I felt like an interloper, unseen and unheard. I tried to pick up my pace to disentangle from the group, all the while attempting to drag along ‘let’s socialize’ puppy.
Teenagers make me nervous; I shudder at the painful transition they must survive in order to pass through to the adult world. The majority of them are beginning to tower over me, even though I still measure out at 5’9”… if I stretch…their faces are usually sullen and hidden, their eyes, caught up in the angst of their years, do not focus on one object for very long, and they do not effuse an ounce of friendliness. I should not judge, I remember the pain of those years, but when they travel in mass, I honestly tend to avoid them.
But on this day, I was caught up in the wake of their forward momentum and was forced to re-evaluate my broadly stated opinions.
The boys’ conversation was that of a foreign, but not completely unfamiliar language, the f -bomb zinged like pebbles pinging off the pavement, stinging my ears, hurting my brain, shaking all sense, for me, out of any of their words.
Just as I finally spotted an opening, and made the break to pass to the left, a translator seemed to drop over me, and in between the expletives I was able to interpret that they were all talking about someone’s little kid brother, a baby.
They were talking about a baby!…what they would say to him, where they wanted to take him, and how much fun it would be once he started walking.
I smiled, and slowed my step, which allowed Cooper the opportunity he had been waiting for…he turned on all his charm and the boys melted. Our journey was halted for a brief moment as comments of “Ahh what a cute puppy” and “Here boy” surrounded us, and for that minute, their faces were, as they should be, young, fresh and approachable.
As we continued on our way, the boys merged to the right, away from us towards the high school. I glanced over and watched as their faces slipped behind their teenage mask and their walk returned to its deformed gait. The girls on the other hand, continued past the gangly boys, their expressions never changing, their voices never heard.
Things are not always what they seem.
A lesson learned.