Early last summer, right about the time The Lawyer was sending subpoenas for supposedly nonexistent pension accounts, I spent a weekend at a conference for the children’s group associated with my lineage society. I didn’t really want to go: The Child wasn’t especially interested and I was struggling, socially. The divorce that would not end was the only thing on my mind, which makes conversation difficult, particularly when dealing with a room full of complete strangers.
I’m not great in these types of large gatherings, in general, though I seem to have mastered an approach that works for me. I stand in one place for the duration of the event. I find by the end that although I’ve not moved a bit, I’ve talked to quite a few people – but not actually approached anyone or said anything overly stupid in an effort to break the ice.
I’m not an Eskimo, I’m a fish – the Eskimos seem to find me, and they have their own ice-breaking equipment.
The conference is mostly fine, and mostly boring, and mostly doesn’t require a lot of conversation on my part. I sit through presentations, and there is plenty of reading material that I can pretend to read intently when I find myself needing to avoid the interactions that I find so difficult.
This strategy works well, too, until The Child and I find ourselves on a school bus for a field trip. We’re headed to the EMP – Paul Allen’s interactive Seattle music museum – with a busload of total strangers. I can’t pretend to read, and the few people I do know at the conference mostly aren’t there.
Except one family, who live quite far away from me, out on the peninsula. I only sort-of know the father, who serves on the state Board with me and I am pretty sure – but not positive – that I was on a bylaws committee he chaired and did all the work for. I know his teenage daughter better, because I’ve seen her at other events, and she’s a very personable, social girl. She’s also on crutches, which The Child finds fascinating, so it’s easy to join this group: father, teenage girl, and a boy about The Child’s age.
We board the bus together, and I sit with Mr. Faraway. The conversation is easy – at least, it’s easier than the other ones I’ve had that weekend. We chat about kids, and The Teenager’s foot injury, and I am surprised to discover that Mr. Faraway himself does not qualify to be a member of the group: His kids do, but through their mother, so he signed them up and serves on the board and takes them to all sorts of activities and just generally helps out.
I make no effort to conceal my surprise, and wonder for a moment where his wife is. The one who is eligible to be a member is not in attendance.