When I saw the fourth one it all made sense. He is the dad, and the guy I always see with the boys is the uncle. They live around the corner from us in a little yellow house. Uncle drives an early 80’s cream-colored Mercedes Sedan. He has the powder-blue tag of an antique automobile, but the car is not a showpiece. It’s a workhorse, the back end caked with diesel exhaust. Uncle and the boys ride skateboards past our house, making careful turns working down the hill. I would not call them skaters, because there is none of the culture of skateboarding apparent with them. They wear no helmets or pads, occasionally just bare feet, and they do not seem interested in tricks or energy drinks. From our brief conversations, the longest of which happened as we watched the utility workers triumphantly raise our pole after the storm, I know they are all ponderers curious about the world. When I saw them I ran to get my own skateboard so I could sit on it and join them. Just us skateboard owners.
This is when I met Dad, who is a slightly shorter, thicker version of uncle, and more gregarious. I don’t really know them at all, but I delight in their company and in watching them work down the hill mostly cautiously. The smallest of the boys, who looks most of the time like a pair of jeans pulled from the dryer, is the daredevil and the one with a natural talent. Uncle calls out to him frequently. “Think about how fast you have to run before you jump off.” “Hold up, don’t get too far ahead of us.” Blue Jeans loves his uncle, and mostly heeds his advice. These four guys are family. Serious family. They are intelligent and gentle. They speak to each other with warm familiarity and kindness. I get the impression that to really get to know these guys would be a trip into a deep and branching story with cul de sacs of segues into 15th century Tarascan architecture or theories on time travel. Perhaps Uncle and Dad are in a ska band or build model rockets. To me they seem a self-contained unit, not needing much else to enjoy life but to hang out together on Goodwill skateboards on the edge of Indianhead Acres. I told them all my spectacular story of crashing on the hill around the corner. I do the thing I do with my arm to provide the visual metaphor when I say it looked like a twisted old TV antenna. They squeeze their brows in sympathy, but I see it is no cautionary tale to them. They are just having fun. Nobody is going to crash. They can probably see, or sense, that I was not just having fun when I crashed. I was miserable and sad.
The boys are the free-roaming kind. A month past-due for haircuts and so easily cool I want their nod of approval, to be acknowledged by their feral eyes. When in their company they are polite and look at me, but their true interest lies at the horizon, the treetops, or at my barking dog. They would like to be her friend, and if they are patient they will be.
I don’t know their story at all, or even their names, which fly from my mind as I hear them, but I find myself occasionally preoccupied with wondering about them, and holding them up to myself as evidence that we are going to be okay, that we all deserve to be okay.