Jacob had a meltdown while we were having breakfast Monday morning. He broke his plate against the table and went running from the room. And it kind of became my job to go after him.
I caught up with him in his room – which he was in the act of trashing. He already pulled all the books out of the bookshelves and they were all over the floor. He got the board games out of his closet and was doing the same with those – there was Monopoly money everywhere. The covers were thrown off his bed and Jacob was trying to tear apart one of the pillows when I got to the room.
“Whoa, cowboy!,” I said, taking in the carnage.
He didn’t hear me.
“Jacob!,” I said, louder.
At least he looked up.
“Stop that. Right now.”
“I don’t have to do what you say,” he said. “You’re not my parents.”
He got the pillow to give and there was foam all over the place in a matter of seconds. And I gotta admit I didn’t know what to say to his line about my not being his parents. That’s true, I wasn’t. On the other hand, I was the one of the two adults in authority, and I felt I had to do something.
Then he started looking around the room for something else to destroy. I may have been wrong, but I think I caught his eye fixating on an aluminum bat in the closet. That could have been a disaster, so I did the only thing I could think of, which was grab him. He struggled against me pretty hard until suddenly he gave up and went limp in my hold.
Then he started crying.
Ok…it was one thing to have Matteo cry. It was another to have Jacob doing it. I’m not sure where the line is about boys being allowed to cry, but I think it lies somewhere between Matteo’s age and Jacob’s.
He ended up hugging me, and so I hugged back. I didn’t like it that he was crying, but this wasn’t the time for a lecture on how boys shouldn’t cry.
“What’s up cowboy?,” I asked, after he’d quieted down. “What’s going on with you?”
He didn’t say anything.
“You can tell me, cowboy. We’re friends, right?”
“Yeah…,” he started to say. “I…”
I shut up and gave him a chance to talk.
“I…I don’t know… Would you think I was crazy if I told you I missed school? And playing sports with other kids. I haven’t played baseball in a year. I really like what we do together…but it’s not the same as playing. And Mom said I could start football this year, too… I…I don’t know. It just makes me so angry when I think about it…”
“How long as this been going on?”
“Getting angry like this. A month, maybe. Matteo would know. Then it kind of boiled over last week while you were moving in. Maybe that’s why you didn’t notice. I…” He paused. “I was kind of hoping you would.”
“Well…you got my attention now,” I said. “And you owe Belen an apology. She cleaned up after you, not because it was her job, but because she likes a clean kitchen. I’d of left it for you. You can just have temper fits and break plates and shit…and stuff like you were doing.”
Ok, so the ‘shit’ slipped out. It got a hint of a smile from Jacob, so maybe it was worth it.
“So what’s the matter, cowboy? I thought you and Matteo were doing ok here with Dr. Peterson. I think Sandy told me that Matteo might stay on being tutored because he was having trouble getting bullied in school…”
“Yeah, Hunter…but that’s Matteo. Everyone worries about him because he gets bullied and would rather sit inside than play outside…but what about me? It’s like everyone figures I’m this super normal kid because I like sports…but…man…this isn’t normal. Not for me. Me and Matteo have been locked up in this house since the quarantine began…and that was almost a year ago. I don’t think I’ve seen my friends once. I know Mom’s super worried that we’ll catch the virus…but I’ve started to forget what my friends even look like.”
“Did you have a lot of friends?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Well…I think I did. I reckon I had a couple of best friends and we were trying to keep in touch on facetime, but it’s not the same…and I hear from them less and less…”
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I said:
“I…I didn’t know.”
I really didn’t. When I came on the scene at the Sharpmans, Dr. Peterson had been teaching them for a while, and I took that for normal. I mean, the boys seemed ok with it. Maybe I should have known better: I went through Lucas’ disappointment when they cancelled sports last spring – y’all may remember just how mad he was and that he broke a bat on the stone steps outside his house.
When I started thinking about it up in Jacob’s room, I realized, of course…duh…why wouldn’t he be upset and miss his friends and playing sports? And, of course, I’m a lot closer to Jacob and Matteo than I am to my other pupils, even Lucas. I mean, I never lived at the Andrews’…and me and the boys were together in the bubble for 40 days and nights. (Well…38 nights lol.)
I really wished Maya and Robert were there to help with Jacob, but they weren’t in the house and the kid needed help now. I know I was totally out of my depth, but, well…I was an 11 year old boy once myself, and, while I never had to go through a year’s quarantine and isolation from my friends and can’t really imagine what that’s like, I do know what it was like when I couldn’t play baseball because I was being punished.
“It must suck, cowboy,” I began, and then realized how flat that must have sounded. “I’d have gone nuts if I’d had to go almost a year without playing sports when I was your age. Heck…part of me is going nuts because I haven’t even played in a softball game since the quarantine started. So maybe I do understand a little.”
“But you at least get to see your friends…you were living next door to Keaton…and you have your girlfriend… The only other kid I ever get to see is Matteo. He’s an awesome brother, but it’s not the same…as having my own friends my age.”
I could see the tears were starting to come again, which was gonna make me uncomfortable, so I tried to head them off.
“I wish I knew what to tell you,” I said, “but none of us – even the grown-ups – have any experience with what we’re going through. You’d have to go back to my Meemaw’s mamaw, I think, to hear what the Spanish Flu epidemic was like a hundred years ago.”
“Yeah,” Jacob said, “Dr. Peterson taught us about that some. They kinda had lockdowns back then, but nothing like what we have now. What’s gonna happen, Hunter? Is this ever gonna end?”
“I wish I could tell you. They have the vaccines, though…so, once they get everyone vaccinated…”
“But that’s gonna take months and months!,” Jacob said. “And maybe Mom won’t let us out even after that unless we can prove that everyone we’re around has gotten the vaccine.” Maya was definitely being overprotective – when I went to Target a few days ago, there were plenty of kids out, but Maya has barely let the boys go anywhere since March. I know they’ve been locked up in the kind of place people dream of living, but, like Jacob said, he still needs to see his friends .
“Can I ask what brought this on?”
“I’m not sure,” Jacob said, this time looking like he wasn’t fixin to cry anymore. “Well…maybe I do know. I was watching the news and heard about all the people wanting schools to reopen and they were talking about how some kids are going crazy from the quarantine and not being able to go to school…and that some have even committed suicide. And the governor won’t let the schools open again, even though they’re saying that kids don’t get the virus, and, if they do, it’s not bad and…”
I’ve seen the news too and I’ve heard all that. It’s kind of hard not to have heard it.
“That’s all true, man,” I said. “Well…at least I heard it all on the news too.”
“So why can’t we go back to school and playing sports?”
“I wish I knew, cowboy. The governor doesn’t call to ask me what I think. Maybe he should…but he doesn’t.”
“Hey,” Jacob said, suddenly smiling, “I know what you should do now that you’re famous. You should run for the State Legislature. You could even be governor some day!”
I had to laugh.
“Yeah…that’s not happening.” Not that we don’t need a new governor lol. “But back to you. You know you’re not going to be going back to school anytime soon, even if the president said something about opening the schools in the first 100 days he’s in office.”
“I know. Mom wants me to finish the year out with Dr. Peterson and said I can go back in the fall. And…” He gave out a huge sigh for a kid – kinda like the whole weight of the world was on his shoulders – when really all he wanted was the chance to play ball. “I’m just…I don’t know…so…so lonely, I guess. Don’t get me wrong: you and Matteo are awesome company, but it’s not really the same as having kids my own age to play with. I’m just so sick of this lameass virus.”
“We all are, cowboy. Although if it weren’t for the virus, I’d be working in the hotel and we’d of never met.”
“And you’d be able to live in your apartment.” I guess I looked surprised. “I’m not 6 years old,” he said, “I understand things like rent…and how you need to make money to pay for an apartment. But you don’t mind living here a lot, do you?”
“Heck no,” I said.
“But you’re not living next door to Keaton anymore. Aren’t you going to miss him?”
“Sure I will, but I have you guys to keep me from getting too lonely. And I can go swimming any time I want. I’ve dreamed of having my own swimming pool ever since they put me in the water the first time. Maybe it’s one of the reasons I came to California: I figured everyone had a swimming pool in their backyard. And, now…I’m living right next to a swimming pool in the middle of a park. I’m cool living here, cowboy. And if I can’t have Keaton for a neighbor, you and Matteo are the next best thing.” I think that made him at least a little happier. “Now the question is what we’re gonna do about you. You can’t go on breaking plates and beating on your little brother and not doing your school work.”
“I…I guess you’re right.”
“Heck yeah I’m right. Would more time working at sports make you feel better? We’ve got the pitching machine” I have to tell y’all about that later “so we can do some serious work on hitting now. I don’t care if you’re Corey Seager, you still have to work hard on your swing. So we’ve got that…and the pool…and the football for fun. Is there anything else?”
“Can you play tennis?”
“’Fraid not,” I said. Middle class boys in Tennessee don’t usually grow up with tennis courts in their backyards. “You’d have to teach me.”
I could tell Jacob really liked that idea, and I reckoned, why not? Just doing sports with me clearly wasn’t filling up Jacob’s athletic needs as completely as I’d have liked, so maybe tennis would be a good idea. We’ve only just converted the tennis court into a batting cage, but all the equipment is moveable…and moving it in and out of the way would give Jacob something else to do.
“What else can I do, cowboy? I don’t want you feeling like this and breaking plates and fixin to cry.”
“Could you not tell Mom and Dad?,” he asked in a little voice.
“Good try,” I said with a smile. “I’ve got to tell them. I’m sure they’ll be worried and want to figure out what to do to keep you happy.”
“Yeah, I guess…”
“No ‘I guess’ – you know they love you. You know I’ve got an idea. It’s not going to be the same thing as you having fun with your friends or anything like that, but it might keep you busy. Why don’t we come up with a segment for the show?”
“I don’t know. That’s what we’d have to think up. Ethan’s usually telling us what to do…maybe we could tell him what we should do for a change.”
Jacob was looking a lot better. I think he liked my suggestion.
“I’ll start trying to think of something. Matteo should be in on it too. Can we come over tonight after we finish our homework?”
“Of course,” I said. “But that means you do your homework.”
“Deal,” he said, putting out his hand for me to shake, and then pulling it back.
“I keep forgetting too,” I confessed. “I’m pretty sure Dr. Peterson is waiting for you. I’ll see you at lunch. You can clean up this mess after we’ve eaten…and then we’ll see if we can’t figure out the pitching machine. Ok?”
“Yeah, Hunter. I’m sorry about this morning.”
“Apology accepted. But what about Belen?”
“I’ll apologize to her before lunch. Is that ok?”
“Yes. But don’t forget.”
“I won’t.” He paused, then he added a little timidly: “we’re cool, right?”
“Yeah, cowboy, we’re cool.”
Which we were. We never weren’t cool. I went back to the pool house to finish getting unpacked and settled, and then I took a swim. I might as well take advantage of the pool while I have one… I had a routine with the boys where I taught school in the mornings and we were athletic in the afternoons, but, now, with Dr. Peterson back, my mornings are free…and I’m not sure what to do with them. But this was my first weekday morning living here officially, and I still have to work out a schedule. I reckon I’ll get the hang of it. And, of course, I knew just what I needed to do with the boys in the afternoon.