Tuesday, October 20, 2009

His Imaginary,Telepathic, Pen-Pal

I miss Gavin-Height

He wasn't here for long and I would like to have known him better.

As a kid I had lots of friends; neighborhood friends, school friends, church friends...sibling friends -whose particular brand of friendship sometimes hovered dangerously close to fatal- but I do not remember ever having an imaginary friend.

When Jonah introduced us to Gavin-Height it was not the "Here is my new friend standing-beside-me-can't-you-see-him-Mom" variety of introduction. I really don't remember a specific declaration or "Nice to meet you" experience. Gavin-Height came slowly into existence. Like Pinocchio, he bandied about with a pseudo identity until one day - poof - he was a real boy, and we happily accepted him as such.

We never talked to Gavin-Height, only about him.
I never observed even Jonah talking to him.

How Jonah got his information I don't know. Jonah was four when this started. He would have understood validating the source of his knowledge about Gavin-Height with a claim such as "G-H sent me a letter, a postcard, an email, he called me, I saw him on the street..." But Jonah never revealed how he knew what he knew.

And this is what he knew:
Gavin-Height and Jonah were cousins
They were the same age
Gavin-Height had blue hair
Gavin-Height lived with his grandma
The grandma was not Jonah's grandma
Gavin-Height and his grandma traveled

Jonah and I went through a phase of reading about different countries. We built a repertoire of impressive facts we could cite about far off places that really existed. Someone might say "Wow, Jonah is so smart. I couldn't even tell you where Pakistan was on a map, much less what they like to eat."
But it's not about smart, is it? Jonah is curious. Jonah is willing to accept whatever attention his mother offers and if that comes in the form of reading a book about children in Sri Lanka he doesn't turn me away. Kids are pretty universally curious. Nothing is old hat. The world is new with every new mind that enters it. The complexities and beauties of life will settle upon them like raw wool with which their minds will spin radiant threads of knowledge. They will happily spill out all the silky ribbons of information flitting about in their heads to any willing audience. We adults might have turned off 'curious' or abandoned 'learn new things for the sake of it' in lieu of making dinner and earning a living. We forget that it is not "smart" to know that Pakistan is sandwiched between India and Afghanistan, it is "smart" to want to know.

I'm not sure that Gavin-Height was so much an imaginery friend as he was a kind of imaginary, telepathic pen-pal. He didn't eat dinner with us, he kept us abreast of his travels with grandma.

Jonah: "Mom, Gavin-Height is in China today."
Mom: "What's he doing there?"
Jonah: "He's going to school with Xui Li (pronounced shoe-lee)"
Mom: "What's his grandma doing while he's at school?"
Jonah: "She's fishing."

We met Xui Li and her parents in a book about life in China. In the book we went to school with her and saw pictures of many little Chinese children that all look very similar to our western eyes. Identical school uniforms did nothing to diminish the differentiation troubles we Occidentals have. We met Xui Li again through Gavin-Height and his wandering grandmother.

Over several months Gavin-Height carried us away to Israel, Paris, California, Iran, Maryland, Italy, and Idaho. His expeditions were both reactionary and innovative - his trail sometimes winding its way through books we had already traveled and sometimes breaking new ground requiring that we read to catch up with him.

One evening Jonah sat at the dining table coloring as I made a cake. I greased the two round cake pans then put flour in to coat the surface. Tapping it this way and that to ensure no spot was left uncovered. Jonah watched intently. I turned the pan over the sink and slapped the bottom a few times to get rid of the excess flour which came away in a white cloud sailing down to the drain.
"Do you know what that's called, Mom?"
"No, what?" I asked, not entirely sure what he was referring to.
"It's a 'Huff'.
"What is a 'huff' ? I wanted to make sure I understood.
"When the flower falls down like rain."
"Where did you learn that?"
"From Gavin-Height........he learned it from his grandma."

I think that was one of the last things we heard from Gavin-Height. Maybe he settled on a country he just couldn't bear to leave. Maybe he turned five and had to go to school. Maybe grandma ran out of money with which to bank roll the globe-trekking. Maybe Jonah didn't need him anymore. I think maybe I needed him to stay a while longer - I knewJonah just a bit more through him.

I like that he had blue hair. I wonder what they thought of that in Israel.


Greg Hannig said...

Aubrey says simply this "sublime"

Emily said...

I love this. I love Jonah. I love Gavin-Height. I think about him sometimes too. He has left quite a legacy for us all. And the bit about the huff is the quintessence of Jonah Delight.

Menner said...

Beautifully written.

This makes me look forward with anticipation to all the quirky things my children will do. I hope they will be as curious and creative as Jonah.

Susan said...

I always thought it was Gavin Hyte.

JaeReg said...

Matt and I talked about the spelling as well. I could go with Gavin Hyte. I have just always seen Height in my head.