The Speed of Absence
by Brian Greene
Sally, in seventh grade at the time that she started taking care of David, had a head of bushy, fiery red hair that she usually wore halfway down her back. She had bright blue eyes, a face full of freckles, and fair skin. Naturally outgoing, she was a tomboy who knew how to ride motorcycles, competed in bike racing events, and played on her middle school’s and high school’s basketball and soccer teams. She could throw a baseball as hard as any boy. She was also a girl who began developing womanly bodily curves early.
Sally became David’s regular babysitter when she was 13 and he was six. David was an only child being raised by a single father. David’s parents tried to have a second child when he was three, but his mother miscarried. His parents began drifting away from each other after that. David’s mother, an art history college professor, later left her husband and son when she fell for a man she got to know at an academic conference. She abandoned David and his father at their Virginia home and moved to Arizona with her new lover, whom she eventually married and with whom she started a second family. That left David’s dad, a sociology professor, to take care of David on his own.
David’s father needed help with his son after his wife left them. He was just getting started on the tenure track at the time. His work was demanding and pressurized. In addition to teaching two courses each semester, holding office hours for students and mentoring two PhD candidates, he served on various committees both within his department and around the wider university. He also needed to travel to conferences at times. And, most importantly, he needed to get articles published in top journals and start making headway towards a first monograph. He signed David up for afterschool care, but even with being able to pick his son up from school as late at 6:00, he still needed time away from parenting. Sometimes, in the evenings and on weekends, he needed to be able to lock himself in his home study or work office and not allow any distractions.
When David’s dad started asking around for babysitter recommendations, several people he knew said, “Get Sally Reuter. She’s good.” Sally’s family lived 12 blocks away from David’s, in a neighborhood that was a few steps lower economically. Sally’s parents both worked at the same local university that employed David’s dad. Sally’s father was an HVAC mechanic who serviced the school buildings, and Sally’s mother ran a register at a university gift shop. David and his dad went to Sally’s family’s house and met father, mother, and daughter. Impressed by all of them, David’s dad told them he would pay Sally double her usual babysitting rate if she could make herself exclusively available for David. An agreement was reached.
David, in first grade when he met Sally, had dark hair, an olive skin tone, and soft brown eyes. Always among the shorter kids of his age, he was thin. Soft spoken and introverted, he was content to stay on the sidelines socially. He became more and more withdrawn from other kids after his mother’s miscarriage, and then even more so after his mom left him and his dad.