A suitcase in the freeway

Causing chaos without going anywhere

The other day there was a suitcase sitting in the center of the freeway, and cars were swerving every which way to avoid hitting it, not that hitting it would have been so bad. In fact, I wish someone had. It was just a framed canvas bag that might have gotten caught in your car grill for a bit but not done much permanent damage or anything. Still, though, people were giving it a wide margin. Traffic careened around it, people were late for things and days were rearranged. All because of a suitcase sitting there.

"Christ, will somebody move that thing?" I thought as I angled around it. I would have done it myself, but I had my child there to think about.

In fact it was her big day at performance camp at the Art Station in Stone Mountain, and when we finally arrived there, it was amid a last-minute panic to rewrite the play's script, because another parent had complained about the play's content, in particular the part of the "vestal girls," which was the 7-year-old equivalent to the vestal virgins of Roman mythology. The rankled parent had complained the part indoctrinated the young girls who played it into "militant lesbianism."

Personally, I think a vestal virgin is a much better role model for a 7-year-old than the parade of infamous mini crack whores invading the media these days, not that I have anything against mini crack whores. I don't wanna judge. I know they must have mothers themselves, probably, and maybe those mothers burst with pride when their girls get out of a limo, for example, and angle those naked crotches so well for the photographers, or when their daughters' pupils are dilated so pretty in their mug shots. I just personally hope my girl grows up to aspire to more than a designer blouse to camouflage her prison tats and track marks, that's all. But who am I but a parent who was actually there to see her child perform in the play, as opposed to a parent who was not planning to show up but nonetheless fired off an e-mail that had everyone engaged in the turmoil of rewriting the script?

"The vestal virgins were actually priestesses," I suggested, operating from the memory of my own grade-school mythology classes, which, amazingly, did not steer me down the road to adolescent sodomy, eventual weapon-toting lesbianism, back-alley abortions or death and the ultimate destruction of Earth. I did go through a bit of a pyromaniac phase, though, but maybe that's because matchbooks and cigarettes were kept in a candy bowl on our coffee table. I remember I was in a Christmas recital then, too, and my father missed every rehearsal, which was fine with me. I didn't want him embarrassing me by showing up all five-o'clock-shadowed and boozy-breathed, but when it came time for the actual performance, he was there in the audience, pointing his lit cigarette at me with pride. I do remember that. I absolutely remember that.

"In fact," I continued, "the vestal virgins were the only female priests in Roman mythology. So maybe the kid's parent would be comfortable if we changed the name of the part." So this change, among others, was agreed upon. Also, the part of the chorus that included, "Do we get married? No!" was subtracted, because God forbid a 7-year-old girl grow up to be independent and empowered outside of wedlock.

No one thought twice before making the decision to rewrite the script. Any decision otherwise would have excluded the girl from participating, and in the face of decisions like this, it's always better to be kind than to be right. That is why I'm so impressed with the camp staff. This is "drama" camp, after all, and I can hardly think of a better way to equip your child to embark on life's journey than to bestow her with the flexibility to navigate the dramatic and circumvent the obstinate.

The girl was elated and the play went underway, with the new lines all the more hilarious for being mangled in their delivery. Afterward, the ovations were made, the cake was served, the pictures were taken, and the parents were proud. Nobody mentioned the missing parent who'd caused the ruckus at curtain time. It was over. It was forgotten.

Until the ride home, when I thought of the suitcase sitting in the center of the road again, and all the cars that were redirected around it as it sat undisturbed, and how people can be like that sometimes, sitting undisturbed in the middle of everything, admonishing the chaos around them while obtuse to being the cause of it. I used to be the kind of person who would get out and move it, but now I just go around because I have this kid here to think about.

So as I drove I considered that Christmas recital when I was 7, when my unemployed trailer-salesman father found the time to brush his teeth and tuck in his shirt long enough to sit in the audience and listen to me sing about the Virgin Mary and other militant lesbians. His proud face is what I was thinking about when we came across the suitcase again. It had been knocked to the side of the road, but other than that it was still sitting there, having gone nowhere.

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (shockingreallife.com).