Twenty minutes after midnight on January 15, 1989, Oakley C. Merideth took a look around the green-tiled labor room at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, thought, "Hey, this place has possibilities!" and made his debut on Planet Earth. Without any help from the obstetrics staff mind you.
Oh, his father called out to the nurses' station--"Could we have a doctor in here???" But the stunned professionals were still wriggling into their throwaway gloves when Oakley wriggled his way into this world.
You see, Oakley and his mother--that would be me--knew something the equipment didn't know. The fetal monitor suggested Oakley was due in roughly two hours, but Oakley's inner clock, and mine--somehow, we'd managed to synchronize--said he would arrive in roughly two minutes. Oakley began this particular leg of his journey on his own schedule.
And he's been traveling that way since. When did he first turn his head, roll over, crawl, say cookie, walk to his father, hug his sister? When he was good and ready. I simply do not remember exact times, and I never recorded these developmental milestones in a baby book.
Other things I remember well. Like the evening we were eating at La Victoria on Alabama Street in the Mission District of San Francisco. Someone walked over to the juke box and started playing Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." You remember it (if you're old enough). The one that starts with all the heavy dance beats. Oakley began dancing from the waist up in his high chair. His head and shoulders moved first one way, then the next. First towards the salsa. Now towards the chips. Then they'd go stiff for a moment. Then they'd swoop again. To the right. To the left. In perfect rhythm. You'd have thought he'd been born in a disco under strobe lights. The waitress's eyes grew huge. They met mine. It was spooky, but in a good way.
Oakley has always been a little spooky, but in a good way. In the way that
a good question is a little spooky. In the second grade he refused to practice his spelling words until someone offered a proper explanation of: Who made up words in the first place? I'm still scratching my head over that one.
At elementary school graduation, when each student went up to receive a diploma, a teacher would stand and say a few words about that particular kid, to try to capture that kid in a nutshell. What was said about Oakley: Takes abstract thought to the next level.
One crisp autumn morning when Oakley was in eighth grade, an officer with the New Mexico State Police called me to inform me that my son had defaced a large expanse of the El Dorado Elementary School with graffiti. "It was a gang, ma'am, and your son was the ringleader." I was stunned. I was shaking. I called Bennie. He and I flew to the school. There we witnessed the desecration firsthand. We learned that Oakley and a group of girls, who apparently found him kind of cute, had indeed scrawled anarchy symbols on the wall. And drawings of turtles and hearts and snippets of poetry. Each morning they caught a bus at El Dorado School, a bus which then took them to the middle school ten miles away. This particular morning the bus never came. They were bored, and they'd discovered AN AUTUMN LEAF makes a handy drawing instrument.
To this day when the New Mexico State Police call and ask me to buy tickets to their fundraiser dance whose purpose is "to keep our kids from a life of crime," I politely refuse.
In middle school Oakley had another run-in with the long arm of authority. He is purportedly the only student in the history of Capshaw Middle School to have spent a day in In School Suspension reading Jung's Man and His Symbols.
Yes, even in middle school Oakley was a visionary. And his companions were visionaries.
When Oakley was a sophomore, I received another phone call. It was from the creative writing teacher at Santa Fe High. "Just wanted you to know that your son won first prize in the New Mexico CultureNet poetry WebSlam. He takes this kind of thing so casually, I practically had to hold a gun to his head to get him to enter it, so he may not tell you."
Yes, at the age of 14, Oakley had, with hardly any effort at all, nailed first prize in a competition of kids from all over the state. Since then he has published his poetry and won scholarships to two writing conferences. He has read his poetry at The College of Santa Fe, alongside two established adult poets. He has been the warmup act to a band called The Sex Boys (don't ask) as well as one of the warmups to the torching of Old Man Gloom at Santa Fe Fiesta.
The poem that clinched his first poetry victory began "Hey little children, little freaks, little souls..." One of the judges wrote that when she read that line, she was captured.
That's the way I've felt since January 15, 1989.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SON!