真希望能 告訴她

過去,我完全想像不到為人父母要學會與這種無時無刻、椎心刺骨的憂慮共處
Michael Christie◎撰 from the New York Times

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ILLUSTRATION by Keith Negley

我當過多年職業滑板選手。十一歲那年第一次踏上滑板,結交到的第一批朋友,都是滿口反腳前側滑板尾、腳尖翻板接翹後輪滑行的術語;這些桀驁不馴的怪男孩跟我一樣不適合團隊運動,在學校格格不入,他們來自破碎或貧窮的家庭,甚至兒童之家。我們就像小小的水泥預拌車,讓自個兒動個不停,唯有溜滑板讓我們不至凝結成一團一團的憤怒。

透過這羣奇怪而狂野的朋友,我頭一遭發現自家生活的怪異。溜滑板讓我母親抓狂。她幫我買了頭盔和護具(我從來不戴),只要看到我身上有傷疤和瘀青便大驚小怪。如果母親有丁點兒相信我會聽話,鐵定會完全禁止我溜滑板。

聽起來是天下父母心,但是在我媽身上,還有更深層的因素。

母親有廣場恐懼症,也就是大部分時間她只能待在家裏。她幫我們剪頭髮、做衣服、準備精緻的餐點;教我如何做書架和縫百納被。她擔心學校會扼殺我的創意,所以鼓勵我隨心所欲地待在家裏,我也就經常不去上學。學校生活哪比得上母親全心全意的關注,而且我知道她需要有我待在身邊。

我和別的孩子處不來。直到十一歲那年,有一天,我看到屋外有個男孩做出「豚跳」動作(雙腳貼住板子,神奇地騰空喀噠一聲躍起),我央求他讓我試試看,卻把母親給嚇壞了。從那天起,我知道我必須到大街上溜滑板,一如母親必須躲在家裏。從此,我只把家當成洗澡和睡覺的地方。

十七歲時我離家,搬得遠遠的。我很少打電話給母親,跟她講話的時候,總覺得她想從我的細胞裏吸走什麼重要的東西,因此每當她問我過得好不好,我總是用簡短尖銳的答案擋回去。那是我滿懷憤怒與憎恨的時期,如今想來,並不覺得光彩。

到了三十二歲那年,母親生病了,是肺癌第四期,我回家照顧她,發現她開始丟棄自己的東西。為了避免有家族歷史意義的珍貴紀念物被扔進垃圾堆,我請她將物品分成三類:保留、捐贈、丟棄。

最後,我從她的櫥櫃裏拖出一只箱子,結果發現裏面全是滑板雜誌,還有書籤從內頁冒出。我隨手翻過其中一本,發現一張五年前的照片,滑板上的我,正用板尾在木頭欄杆上滑過。

我對母親說:「我還以為你不敢看這些東西。」

她避開我的目光,說:「我只能訂這些雜誌。這些年,你從不寄照片回家,我只能在這些雜誌上看到你。」接着,她嘆了口氣,說:「『保留』吧。」

母親做完化療後,我也回到自個兒的家。幾個星期後的某天深夜,我被電話鈴聲吵醒。母親走了。我還記得自己坐在餐桌前抱着肚子哭泣不止。我非得出門不可。我抓起滑板,在昏黃的街燈下溜了好幾個小時。

五個月之後,我的大兒子誕生。我立刻愛上這個小傢伙,滿腦子全是他,無法將視線從他身上移開。妻子睡覺的時候,我會帶他出門散步個大半天。中午時分,我推着嬰兒車走在街道上,突然察覺這世界危機四伏,人類在它面前彷彿完全赤裸,好生脆弱。城市裏到處都是長年來我視而不見的危險:橫衝直撞的車子、企圖擄走孩童的綁匪、有毒的廢氣、亂丟的針頭,感覺就像宇宙成了雙面間諜,與我為敵。

對於兒子的安全問題,我培養出有如邊境牧羊犬般的專注力。有時他站在茶几前可愛地搖搖擺擺爬向吧台,我必定隨侍在側。我早已熟悉物理學裏的碰撞,知道他的前額如果撞到檯燈會發出什麼聲響;如果他往後倒,小腦袋撞上硬邦邦的木頭又會有何聲響。

我也擔心,說不定是母親的關係;我遺傳了她大腦裏的化學作用——是體內容易焦慮緊張的基因在控制我。

接下來的情況變本加厲。公園裏有條狗好像要咬兒子,我踢了牠一腳。我向妻子抱怨托嬰中心的員工沒有認真照顧好兒子。如果他吃飯時噎到,我得花一個小時外加小酌幾杯才能平靜下來。我已無法好好睡覺。

過去,我完全想像不到為人父母代表要學會與這種無時無刻、椎心刺骨的憂慮共處;學會面對什麼時候該把孩子接住,什麼時候又得放手讓他跌倒。迄今,我已看過兒子摔在水泥地和木頭地板上又彈起。二○一三年,老二報到,他的膽子比哥哥更大。也許有一天,我會被迫聽到他們的骨頭啪一聲折斷,看到他們鮮血直流;然後,在經歷了成長的點點滴滴和跌跌撞撞之後,離巢單飛,遠離我的保護傘。母親當年的確是病了,但她其實也是對的:為人父母,總是會心驚膽顫。

常聽人說兒女讓我們認識自己,也認識自己的父母,這話雖是老生常談,卻是真理。兩個兒子教我學會放鬆。我看到他們在摔跤後變得更加強壯。最近,我甚至幫他們買了滑板。

我也在學習原諒母親,原諒她大半輩子足不出戶,原諒她無法處理自己的恐慌症。母親什麼都怕,但她勇氣十足。以前我天不怕地不怕,但為人父母讓我變得膽小。我真希望能告訴她這件事。

我想像母親翻閱一本又一本的雜誌,尋找自己大膽莽撞、滿腔怒氣的兒子,卻只看到我在她去不了的地方從天而降。她一定能了解我當時的感覺,也一定知道我現在的感覺。

滑板是一種最基本的移動機械,沒有傳動齒輪、沒有輔助裝置,也不具任何防護。它就是要讓你摔跤、讓你失敗,但同時也讓你自由、讓你享受人生。站在滑板上,面對來自四方無法控制的力道,你得設法保持平衡。最重要的是,要鼓起勇氣、放低姿態、堅持不懈,還有繼續前進。


I Wish I Could Tell Her That Now

For many years, I was a professional skateboarder. I first stepped on a skateboard at the age of 11. The nomenclature – switch-stance frontside tailslide, kickflip to nose manual – was the language of my first friendships, with wild, strange boys who were as ill-suited to team sports and school as I was. They were from broken homes. Poor homes. Group homes. We were all like little cement mixers, keeping ourselves in constant motion, our skateboards’ movement the only thing preventing us from hardening into blocks of pure rage.

It was through those wild and strange friends that I first realised the oddity of my own home life. Skateboarding gave my mother panic ­attacks. She bought me helmets and pads (which I never wore) and gasped at my scars and bruises. She would have forbidden me to skateboard at all if she believed for a second that I would comply.

This might sound like typical ­parental anxiety, but with my mother, it was something deeper.

My mother was agoraphobic, which means she was often housebound. She cut our hair, made us clothes, prepared complex meals. She taught me to build a bookshelf and piece together a quilt. She worried that school stifled my creativity, so she encouraged me to stay home whenever I wanted, which was often. School couldn’t compare with the spotlight of her attention, and besides, I knew she needed me close by.

I felt uneasy around other children until that day when I was 11 and saw a boy outside my house perform an ‘ollie’ (that magical, clacking leap by which skateboarders temporarily glue their boards to their feet and vault into the air). To my mother’s horror, I begged him to let me try. From then on, I ­realised I needed to be skateboarding in the streets as much as she needed to be safe in the house. I stopped coming home except to shower and sleep.

At 17, I left and moved across the country. I seldom called my mother. When we talked, it felt as if she was trying to siphon something vital from my cells, so I parried her inquiries about my welfare with sharp, monosyllabic replies. It was a time of great anger and resentment, a time I’m not proud of.

Then when I was 32, my mother got sick with Stage 4 lung cancer. I went home to care for her and found her in the process of throwing away everything she owned. To prevent precious artefacts of our family history from being lofted into the trash, I gave her three options: keep, donate or trash.

Eventually I dragged a container from her cupboard and found it was stuffed with skateboard magazines, bookmarks peeking out from their pages. I leafed through one and discovered a ­picture of myself, five years younger, atop a skateboard mid-tailslide on a wooden handrail.

“I didn’t think you could look at these,” I said.

“I took out subscriptions,” she said, avoiding my eyes. “You never sent any photos over the years. These were the only ones of you I could get.” Then she sighed, “Keep.”

A few weeks after her chemotherapy ended and I returned home, I woke late one night to a phone call: my mother had died. I remember sitting at my kitchen table, weeping, clutching my stomach. I had to get outside. I grabbed my skateboard and rolled for hours in the orange street lights.

Five months later, my first son was born. My love for him was instant, soul-flooding. I had trouble taking my eyes off him. We went on long walks while my wife slept. Out with his stroller in the midday traffic, I found that I had suddenly become attuned to the world’s menace, to the human being’s naked vulnerability in the face of it. The city throbbed with dangers that I’d long been insensate to: veering cars, potential kidnappers, toxic exhausts, carelessly discarded needles. It was as though the universe had turned double agent and become my enemy.

I developed a Border Collie–like ­attentiveness when it came to my son’s safety. When he stood at the coffee ­table like a cute little drunk bellying up to a bar, I’d be hovering there. After my long acquaintance with the physics of crashing, I knew exactly what whap his forehead would make if it hit the lamp, what thunk his cerebellum would issue on the hardwood if he tipped back.

Or perhaps, I worried, it was ­because of my mother – my inherited brain chemistry, my angst-ridden genes taking over.

Things got worse. I kicked a dog at the park that looked as if it was going to bite my son. I complained to my wife that his daycare workers were inattentive. If he choked on something at the table, it would take me an hour and a few drinks to smooth out my nerves. Sleep became impossible.

I never imagined that parenthood meant learning to live with this unrelenting, impaling fear, with the question of when to catch your children and when to let them fall. To date, I’ve watched my son’s body bounce off concrete and wood. We had another son in 2013, this one more fearless than his brother. Some ­day I may be forced to hear their bones snap and see their blood gush. And then, after all that growing and falling, they might move away, far beyond my protective reach. My mother was ill, but she was also right: it is terrifying to be a parent.

It is a cliché to say children teach us about ourselves and about our parents, but it is true. My sons are teaching me to calm down. I’ve watched a trip to the ground leave them incrementally stronger. I even recently bought them both skateboards.

I’m learning to forgive my mother, for her life lived inside, for her inability to cope. She was afraid of everything, yet she was brave. I used to fear nothing, but parenthood has rendered me a coward. I wish I could tell her that now.

When I picture my mother leafing through those magazines, searching for her reckless, angry son, only to find me falling from the sky somewhere she couldn’t go, I’m sure she understood how I felt then, how I’d feel now.

A skateboard is the most basic ambulatory machine. It has no gears, ­offers no assistance. It will protect you from nothing. It is a tool for falling, for failure – but also for freedom, for living. On a skateboard, you must stay ­balanced in a tempest of forces beyond your control. The key is to be brave, get low, stay up and keep rolling.

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