“That best portion of a good man’s life; His little, nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love.”
William Wordsworth, from Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey
One night last fall, just after I put on my pajamas, I got a call from relatives who were in the middle of a family crisis with their teenage daughter. The police had been called; they needed help defusing the conflict. They asked if I would come and get her and keep her overnight. Certainly. I drove the twenty minutes to their house, gave everybody hugs (except the policemen who were still there), and took their daughter home with me to sleep at our house. In the dark car I asked a few questions – fishing to see if she wanted to talk about her side of the story. She didn’t seem particularly upset at this point, which didn’t surprise me – parents are typically the ones most rattled by the worst teen battles. She answered enough to reassure me she wasn’t in terrible trouble, but she didn’t reveal what was really bothering her, and I didn’t press.
In the morning I woke remembering a time I was very near her age when my father let me skip school, cancel work, and ride the bus four hours to spend a few nights with him nursing my broken heart. He lived half the time at home with our family and half in a home/office he kept in Maine. My father knew I was upset and he also knew he had little chance of having any meaningful conversation about it. Parents have lots of assumptions but very little insight into what’s bothering their teenager. My father thought I was heartsick about a recent break-up with a boyfriend – I was actually relieved to finally be rid of him. What had tipped me over the edge of despair was discovering the boy I thought I was in love with was dating someone else.
My father had the wisdom not to ask me a bunch of questions. Instead, he bought me a book – it was an illustrated book of famous poems and quotations about love. I’m pretty sure it was called Love Is Oh So Many Things. That first night we were together he gave it to me and the one question he did ask was if I would like to read it with him? We sat together on the couch with the book open between us while he read me the poems. It was comforting to get to keep my pain secret, but reading the poems together out loud made me feel he understood. Poetry was the perfect gesture.
Kelly DuMar’s poetry has appeared in Sugared Water, Corium, Tupelo Quarterly, Kindred, and many other journals. She founded and produces the annual Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights held at Wellesley College, now in its 8th year. Her website is kellydumar.com and you can follow her on Twitter @kellydumar.