Thursday, January 25, 2007

the color of justice

It was Mike's idea to go fancy.

I was in Goodwill looking for an old, ornate frame for one of Isaac's paintings. He's an interesting toddler artist, my guy. Gets in close with his markers, concentrating on the lines he's about to make. Chooses each new color with fanfare. His favorite new sign, by the way is 'rainbow.'

With a paintbrush the other day, he watched the thick strokes carefully. One pass with red. A second pass. Orange next, coming in curving complements. As if he were raised crawling around studios and galleries, he steps back, stares at his work, tilts his head, replaces the brush, pronounces it done, and walks away.

My friend, whose son is busy slathering layer number six of red on red, his canvas a solid block of goo, looks over at us, stunned. “That's a framer!” she comments.

It was a Saturday, and Goodwill was busy. Everything with a black tag was half price. The wide gold frame had potential but wasn't quite right. And the popularity of metal, mauve numbers was simply not acceptable. I had already determined this lack of cool, old frames in the right size, but lingered, checking out the burnt orange sectionals and rows of identical flower vases. There were two boys playing nearby in the toy section. Well, really only one was playing – he looked about nine, his brother was about two, not much bigger than Isaac.

The two-year-old was trying to play, but his older brother kept thrusting a giant stuffed green snake in his face, pushing him over with it, half frightening, half annoying the tyke. Again and again it happened, until the snake was abandoned for a yellow truck and then a large white bear – the little one squealing in protest, moving away, begin pursued, crying, the cycle repeating itself.

Their mother appeared not to be fully tuned in to the scene, busily choosing among sleeveless turtlenecks in shades of blue and grey from a rack of knit tops.

It bothered me more than I would've imagined, this teasing, this sibling rough housing, maybe because only one side was being rough, or even had the ability to be. This was a classic case, and I routed for the underdog with more emotion than I had at any other time I could remember. I was incensed, but seemingly helpless.

We drifted apart, me and the victim/victimizer. Then, just as I decided I was done and began a brisk stride for the door from the back of the store, I saw him again – the nine-year-old. He was walking in my direction holding the snake, looking a confident master of his world.

Damn me if you must. Put me down as perpetuating the violence. I am guilty of a lack of compassion for the aggressor. Mea culpa. Mea culpa.

Ever so subtly, I edged over as we passed each other, crowding the boy in next to a rack of pink and purple plus-sized women's blazers. Just a toe, only that, turned out just enough.

I kept my eyes focused ahead of me, but I felt the bump of his sneaker hitting into mine, heard the muffled thud of a small frame meeting thin, brown, industrial carpet.

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