Monday, October 20, 2008


Squicky, vaguely Oedipal-y Modern Love column here:

It was true: Why would anyone not love Sarvis? He was bright, self confident — sometimes tender, endearingly spaced out — and could keep a steady drumbeat in music class. And the brown ringlets he’d had since he was a baby still hung in heart-stopping whorls down his neck when he refused to brush his hair.


I started using the vandalized stall exclusively. After a few weeks, I even started thinking of it as Sarvis’s bathroom. I was haunted by the comment a friend made following the birth of her second son. “He’s very cute,” she said, “but I’m worried. It seems like sons, no matter how much you love them, just grow up and leave you to marry someone you hate.”


After he got off the school bus that day and made the walk down our drive, Sarvis hung his head and wouldn’t look at me. “Someone wrote my name on thegirls’ bathroom wall,” he mumbled. His little shoulders sagged with the weight of being in the third grade.

“How does that make you feel?” I asked.

“Horrible.” He pushed his hair out of his eyes then came to me. His lunch pail banged into my backside while he leaned his head into my belly.

The school custodian tried to get rid of the graffiti, but his only strategy was to scratch over the girl’s scratching, which left big cloudy scars on the stall wall, while the writing underneath remained, tenacious and legible.

And the girl who loved Sarvis was persistent. Over the next few weeks, she scratched her note again and again. She loved Sarvis many ways, horizontally and vertically, in large writing and small. She used the heart rebus and the written word in capital letters: “LOVE.”

The janitor couldn’t keep up; the wall was a mess, full of hearts and Sarvis’s name, and everyone seemed helpless against this little vixen’s love for my boy. I kept thinking of the girls in his class. Who would be so bold? Who would take such a risk? Who among them could possibly fail to recognize that her third-grade infatuation was no match for my perfect, clear memory of Sarvis’s 3-year-old voice singing “Fuzzy and Blue” along with Grover?

Graffiti Girl didn’t even know where I kept Sarvis’s immunization record. She didn’t have a clue about how much he liked lemon pepper on his spaghetti. She couldn’t “heart” Sarvis more than I “heart” Sarvis.

Every week when I got to school, I stepped into the “I love Sarvis” stall as if it were a sacred chamber. Eventually, the bathroom wall became a metaphor for my own love for Sarvis: industrial, resistant, indestructible. One day I went in and traced the little girl’s writing with my finger. I traced my son’s name and the original heart, which was dented in places.

I knew it was only an innocent crush, yet I truly lamented that some little girl was pushing my boy into a vaguely sexual consciousness, ruining his happy indifference to gender, making him grow up an increment.

As I traced her words, however, I started to identify with her. Putting my hand in the middle of her carved heart, I commiserated — “I love him, too.”


I MADE up my mind to soften my feelings toward Graffiti Girl. No matter that she was using her fresh skills and knowledge to steal Sarvis away from me. Whatever her identity, she was also growing up too fast. And I knew that for now, anyway, and maybe for months or years, she wouldn’t really be able to compete with someone like me who had the power to feed Sarvis, drive him places and rent from Netflix.

And where some child wrote, “I love Sarvis,” I would like to use a knife, a screwdriver, or even the little piece of metal that holds an eraser to a yellow pencil to add to the graffiti. “More than you ever will, little girl,” I’d carve into that metal wall. “I love Sarvis more than you ever will.”

Again, ew. I feel sorry for "Sarvis," whose name I put into quotes because I hope that it's not a real name. Otherwise, that kid is in for a world of auto-Google hurt. Or, first-date Google hurt. Ew, ew, ew. And, TMI! I frequently am accused of over-sharing, but I would never write such things! Damn our current lax mores. And so serious in tone! There's the cute-but-I-know-you're-joking protective parent rap about "my five year old kid has a crush, and I want to tell the boy that if he makes her cry I will take a wiffle bat to his knees even if I have to kneel down to do it," but this extreme possessiveness is kind of creeptastic. I'm looking at the picture of my nephews and nieces now. I love them to pieces. But you know, not enough to interrogate little kids to hunt down the competition, real or imagined, for my affections. Ew, ew, ew.