He was a good-looking man, in that brawny, sharp-eyed Nordic way. He’d grown up locally, in the Scandinavian neighborhood, near where I lived, where there’s a Lutheran church on every corner. His dad had been a fisherman, but that life wasn’t for him. He joined the police force out of high school, married his childhood sweetheart, and had two kids by age 22.
When I met him, he was 30. He’d been promoted and divorced. He was working on the bachelor’s degree that police officers get when they want to be promoted again, in “SoJo” (“Law, Societies, and Justice”). From the very first day, he sat beside me in Hindu devotional poetry class.
We read songs of Krishna and of Kali. The professor enraptured our small class with lectures and slide shows about cultural context and the art that illustrated, adapted, and alluded to the poems we were reading (in translation). It was a quarter of passion, reverence, earthiness, and transcendance. Heady stuff for lonely people.
He walked me out after class from that very first day. He often carried my books. We had coffee or a quick lunch before we went to our respective jobs. I was a returning student, too. He could relate to me. He could be honest with me. Not like these kids running around underfoot; they had no idea how hard life was. Sometimes he dropped me at my office in his ancient, beloved (but not suspiciously so) BMW, which was always illegally parked. Absolutely always, as if he saw a legal spot and an illegal spot side by side and chose the latter every time.
He was angry about things. He was angry that he felt pressured to go back to school. He was angry that he was expected to pay for parking. The divorce had been ugly, and his ex-wife was no longer in their children’s lives. He was very angry about that.
He was especially angry about the isolation he felt, having almost every moment of his day scripted by work, school, or his children’s activities. He loved them, don’t misunderstand, but he was overwhelmed. Like many overwhelmed people, he had a hard time accepting that there just wasn’t enough time. He could not simply be a good student, work toward the next step – the next three steps – in his career, and then be the best dad he could the rest of the time. Something was missing, and he felt entitled to it, and if he didn’t have it, it was someone else’s fault.
“When you’re a single parent, you can’t meet anyone. No one wants to get involved with someone who already has kids.”
“I don’t know. I like kids.”
“Where the hell were you five years ago?” He didn’t say it in a funny way.
I caught myself wondering, even though I knew I hadn’t been in the right place for him. I was a returning student, but I had only worked for a couple of years. It wouldn’t have hurried his promotions to be picking up his girlfriend at the local high school. I’m sure that never occurred to him. Unless it did. Maybe he just needed a good babysitter.