I met Charles long before I became his teacher. Small and solemn, he was a very serious and eager little conversationalist. I would see him in the schoolyard, talking to another teacher, and we would walk together. I’m not sure exactly how our greeting started—probably he was leaning forward one day, looking Buddha-esque, and so I bowed to him rather than say hello. He bowed back, and our heads touched.

From then on, that’s how we said hello. It got to the point that we didn’t even speak; he would just walk over while I was on yard-monitor duty, chatting with other students, and we would bow and touch heads, and grin. Other kids and teachers got used to seeing it, and no-one really questioned it. It suited us.

When Charles finally became my student, I would draw the picture on his papers—two stick figures leaning towards each other, heads touching. There’s a picture of the two of us at a classmate’s Bar Mitzvah, heads bowed. The photographer kept asking whether we wanted to face the camera, but we didn’t. Capturing the image was more important than having our faces visible to the lens.

Charles visited a crafts fair over vacation, and found a husband and wife team who took blobs of colored glass, etched words or images on them, and encircled them in silver to make pendants. He spoke to the wife, the silversmith half of the team, and described and drew a picture of what he wanted.

The woman took Charles’ sketch to her husband, the etcher of the glass. He looked at the drawing of two stick figures leaning towards each other, heads touching and must have decided that the child had drawn the image incorrectly.

So he “fixed” it.

Returning to school after vacation, I found a very eager Charles waiting to give me a present. It was the pendant—-a piece of smooth, blue-green sea glass, slightly bigger than a half-dollar--on which was etched two stick figures holding hands.

”Oh Charles, neat! It’s very much like our symbol.”

Charles sighed and explained that it was supposed to have been our symbol, but when he went back to pick up the jewelry from the artisans, he was too polite to point out that they had etched the wrong design, so he politely thanked them and paid for it.

People comment on the pendant whenever I wear it. Charles never fails to tell me he likes it, and I tell him an old friend gave it to me. I tell the story to anyone who looks vaguely interested. I find it to be such a commentary on adult’s perceptions of children’s abilities, and grown-ups' eagerness to standardize the world.

Ever notice how many songs there are about Wichita? Wichita Lineman, Wichita Skyline, True Dreams of Wichita. Just the name of the place invokes hazy images in people, even in people who've never been there or anywhere near there.

This is what I'm thinking about in the car on the way to the bar. Driving somewhere specifically to drink is a bad idea - bars should be walked to and taxied from in my opinion, but we're not in Kansas anymore and...wait. Actually, we ARE in Kansas. That's the problem. Public transportation here means borrowing a bike from a neighbor's lawn and hoping you don't get caught.

Anyway. We're driving to the bar. I'm riding shotgun, compulsively raising and lowering my window to get just the right kind of breeze - steady enough to counteract the heat blasting from the dashboard but light enough that I don't get burning cigarette ash all over myself when I try to lose my spent butts in the slipstream. The radio is quite amusingly mixing NPR and John Cougar Mellencamp because we can't get either station clearly and have to settle for both. We could just turn the damn thing off, but then we'd have to talk.

We're not going to talk again until we're well and truly plastered. That way we can reconcile and be done with it and complain about our aching heads in the morning the way God intended instead of sitting around listening to each other's list of grievances, grievances we know full well there's nothing to be done for. Listening, nodding, trying desperately to keep my voice low. No yelling; she hates that. I have to keep reminding myself. 'Course, if I was just allowed to blow my top I'd be fine 30 seconds later, smoking a cigarette like I'd just finished having the best sex of my life. But no. We talk on her terms.

And when we're done (at least, when she's done) we drink on mine. The only difficulty is getting from her comfort zone (the living room) to mine (bellied up to a bar with a glass of the favorite in my hand). She got her monthly quota of eye contact back at home - now I get to let my lenses defocus a bit by trying to read the liquor labels on the second shelf through the glass of the bottles stacked in front of them on the first. And I get to eat peanuts. I can't wait.

I make it sound like we mind this little dance, but we don't. It's a ritual like buying a paper on the way to work or inhaling the steam from my coffee before I drink it. It's how we work. Talk, whiskey, sex. Just like that. Screwy, but comfortable.

We make it to the bar, park around back and head in. I make a show of holding the door for her, bowing low and sweeping my arm wide, her own personal turnstile. We sit, order our drinks and pretend to be engrossed by the deodorant commercials playing on the televisions at either end of the bar. We drink, and the knots work their way out of my shoulders, the tension collecting in a puddle under my barstool along with my coat. I reach for my drink with one hand and her back with the other, lightly tracing the bones in her spine through her sweater. I'm halfheartedly trying to read the labels like I wanted to but I know it won't last. I look down, then up, then over. And there she is, waiting. Chewing on some peanuts stolen from the little stash I keep next to my glass.

My hand leaves her spine and goes for her shoulder. Gently, I pull her over a little so that her shoulder touches mine. She leans in a little; just a little. Just enough so that I'd notice.

"Hi," I say.

- - -

Many hours after this, still in the bar (but talking), I stand on rubbery legs and slalom my way to the restroom. Pushing at the door doesn't seem to work so, me being so ridiculously clever, I pull. I turn on the faucet, running my hands under the warm water and then over my face. I lean, my head resting against the mirror above the sink and my eyes closed, engaged in yet another ritual.

A thanks-giving.

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