If you had stayed in the bathroom for five more minutes, you would have seen me rubbing Jonah's back in long strokes and kissing him on his still-smooth jaw. You would have heard me whispering to him, but you probably wouldn't have been able to hear me. That's okay: you'll understand soon.
If you had walked into the dining room maybe five minutes earlier, you would have seen me sitting at the table with Clint and Jared and Lauren. Lauren was very quiet with her head down and wisps of hair covering her face. You would have seen Jonah disappearing into the kitchen with his plate and glass. You would heard me say: "Clint, do you think I should go talk to him, tell him it's not a big deal?" You would have seen him nod emphatically. You would have seen me scurry after Jonah.
If you had walked into the dining room ten minutes before that, you would have seen Clint ask Jonah about chewing gum in school. You would have seen Jonah's cheeks stain with red. You would have seen him drop his head. You would have seen Clint tell me quietly that Jonah got a detention today at school for chewing gum again. You would have heard silence in the room. You would have seen Jared playing with his pasta as he tried to pronounce "detention" over and over again. You would have felt the awkwardness of the silence, the way it draped around the table like the coils of a snake on a circus performer's neck, heavy and repulsive. You would have seen Lauren use the powers she has picked up on a TV show to analyze Jonah's reaction for lies. You would have seen him flee.
I don't know if this is a strength or weakness, but I cannot see sorrow in others and not try to alleviate it. As Jonah sat on my lap in the bathroom, bony arms and tailbone poking me, trying to find a way to fit comfortably, crying softly, I couldn't berate him. I couldn't punish him more. He had done enough punishing already. So he chewed gum in class. He says he has bad breath and he forgot to take it out before school started. He broke the rules; he got punished with a detention. In that moment, it was my place to love him and to snuggle him out of his melancholy.
After he returned to near-normal, and as we were doing dishes, he asked me what I would have done if he had done something really bad, like swearing or de-pantsing someone. I told him very seriously that for a serious crime like one of those, the punishment from me (and Clint) would have been much more serious, probably painful, definitely longer lasting. I told him it was a good thing he had just done a project on torture devices of the Spanish Inquistion at school. They had lots of good ideas that his dad and I could choose from. He almost swallowed his gum.This is Jonah two years ago. Look at that angelic smile. Yeah, he was almost 9 then.