Small talk about big things
Austin holds his sons Tucker, left, and Greyson, right. Greyson, the little Lion Man, died when he was six months old.
I can’t tell you his name. Jerry maybe. Or Jeff. Let’s just call him “J”. His wife was still wearing her name tag, so while I didn’t remember her name either, I could steal a glance and pretend that it mattered. Perfect strangers, and yet there we sat on a table at the park, watching our kids play at a 4-H picnic, trading vasectomy reversal stories. You know, just a regular Saturday evening, making friends.
There are few things a man considers more personal than a doctor taking a knife (or laser or soldering iron or whatever torture device they use) to his manliest of manlies. Near the top of that short list is the reversal of said slicing and dicing.
You see, with the term “reversal” is the implication of “dumbassedness” for having had said surgery in the first place. Especially for those of us young and married only the one time. You might as well tell the man you are speaking to that you don’t really understand the in-field fly rule or that a touchdown is worth four points. And a crank case, that’s what you carry the crank in, right?
Yes. I am the man who had the vasectomy any logical man would not have had, reversed it, and then will have another after our daughter arrives. I’m the idiot who is having three, voluntary operations on my jolliest of jollies.
I am “that” guy.
So why, oh why would I feel comfortable having this discussion with a perfect stranger? Because he already knew so much more.
I’ll try to keep this simple.
Our children are part of group of about 30 playing nearby. He asks which mine is. I ask which are theirs. Then I get a text from my wife requesting a cheesecake on our way home. No. I am not “whipped.” She is 38 weeks pregnant. I am a hero.
So, I get to brag a little as the informed, involved father. This girl has been rougher on my wife than either of the boys … .
And that is my mistake. Because now they know there are two boys and they are bound to ask about the other. About Greyson.
There is nothing in all of existence that sucks the air out of a conversation faster than a buried child.
Greyson was born with a condition known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Essentially, he did not have the left half of his heart. Modern science is amazing and miracles do happen. Ours lasted six months. Six tough, fighting, teaching, wonderful months.
To be clear, I am forever happy to not only talk about Greyson, but to brag on him. He was the strongest and sweetest soul I have ever encountered. I can also brag on my wife for all that his passing has led her to do. Laws, actual laws, have changed. And so I am filled with loving pride by this subject.
Thing is, while I can laugh and joke and happily talk about my dead son, you can’t. You are too polite. You will glower, look uncomfortable, try to say something sympathetic that I do not need or, worse, try to say something uplifting and empowering which I do not want. In the end, it is often just uncomfortable.
So while I don’t avoid the topic of Greyson when I am meeting strangers, I don’t go out of my way to bring it up. Casual conversation should be casual. It is meant to kill time. So why throw that at them? Why drag myself through it? Why not, for just five unimportant minutes, be just a guy and shoot the breeze?
But I slip. It comes up. And I refuse to be shy about him. And, of course, “Mrs. J” is a nurse. So then the conversation takes a turn. It gets technical and it gets hard. While my son is the one whose chest was split open on an operating room table, in telling the story it is my tender-most spots that are left raw and exposed to be examined and judged.
So when opportunity presents itself, I happily turn to trading reversal stories with “J” because it is a fun subject by comparison. Especially when he asserts for the fourth time that “one Valium was NOT enough.” Seriously, dude was annoyed and hilarious.
Truth is, I don’t mind talking about such a personal subject because once you know Greyson, once you know about the depth of his blue eyes, once you know about his lion cub’s roar, once you know how he fought and struggled and ultimately left us far too soon … .
Then, you have seen the most intimate and delicate place in my heart. A glimpse only, to be sure, but once you’ve been there, why would I care if you know about the most swollen of swolleness? He is my most private thing. The rest is just small talk.