Archive for January, 2011

The D word

We’re driving home after a loud dinner at a local pizzeria when Eli informs Sally and me that he knows the D word.

Sally and I look at each other. The D word? Is that damn, dumbass, dingus, douche bag, or dick, I wonder? Or maybe dildo? That’d be just swell. Some little jerk teaching our six year old to say dildo.

As with most things parent, I have no idea how to handle the introduction of the D word. I mean, how should I respond? What should I say? It’s like I’ve been blasted into a foreign country, and I’m suddenly forced to communicate by nodding and pointing and grinning like a moron.

“Eli,” Sally asks. “What do you think the D word is?”

Sally seems oddly calm. Doesn’t she realize what’s happening here, that we’re witnessing the end of childhood and innocence and all that’s pure and good and right and beautiful?

“It’s a very bad word, Mom.”

A very bad word. Fantastic. Like dildo. Yes. It has to be dildo. I’m convinced now.

And I bet it was that turd Zachary from school who introduced our sweet child to that adult language. That does it. I’m calling his no-account parents as soon as we get home. I mean, really. Dildo. First graders shouldn’t be exposed to language like that.

“It’s okay, Eli,” Sally says. “You can tell us.”

I cringe and hold my breath and sweat a little and brace for damn, dumbass, dingus, douche bag, dick, and dildo.

“It’s dumb,” Eli states. “That’s the D word.”

Dumb. Oh. Of course. The D word is dumb. How could I be so, well, you know.

I exhale.

“Yes, son,” I explain, regaining my ability to speak. “That’s the D word, and we shouldn’t call people or pets that, except for maybe your cat Snurp, because he really is dumb.”

“Dad. You said the bad word.”

“Oh. Right. I mean Snurp is retar, um, not smart.”

Sally shakes her head and sighs. For some reason, she does that lots.

As we climb out of the car, I wonder how long before Eli learns those other D words. And then I wonder if he already knows them.

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Even in the dark

My sister tells a story about our cousin Timmy two weeks after he shot himself in the eye.

The story goes like this: She walks into Timmy’s house, and Timmy is somehow there, sitting at the kitchen table, holding a can of beer. “I’m sorry,” he mutters, staring at the floor. “I’m so sorry.”

My sister leaves the kitchen and makes her way down the hall, past the dusty living room and the dingy bathroom and the locked bedroom where Timmy blasted himself to oblivion. Inside the padlocked bedroom with the shades forever pulled, she hears his ghost again. There he howls. He punches a hole in the wall. He breaks anything fragile.

The first year of Slade’s life, I acted a lot like Timmy’s ghost. I shouldn’t admit that, I’m sure. I shouldn’t confess that I was mad and depressed.

But that was me. That’s who I became.

There were days, weeks even, when I couldn’t handle the baby crying or find the energy to help Eli with his homework or pull myself off the couch. There were bursts when I raged like a wounded animal. There were afternoons when I dreamed of riding my bike on empty roads till I forgot everything.

I shouldn’t tell you that I was infected with guilt, either. But that was me that year, too. Late at night, I would stare at Eli and Slade in blue light as the boys slept in their room. “I have to find a way to be a better dad,” I would tell myself. “These boys deserve it. I have to find a way.”

*****

Love. I don’t use that word much. Not that I have anything against the notion. I love plenty. But that word itself is so misused and overused and polluted by platitudes that it makes me want to punt a puppy.

I love you more than mere words can express. Puke. If you love somebody, set them free. My left eye is twitching. Love heals all. Somebody take me out now. I mean it. Take me out.

But the truth, and this makes my belly churn, is that love seeps into every word I write on this blog. Those posts about Snurp terrorizing the dogs and my parents leaving? The ones about my friends dying and Eli starting kindergarten? They’re secretly love stories.

That’s right. Love stories. Bad Chemicals is just a long Hallmark card with a sprinkling of profanity and the occasional toilet joke.

I think I’m going to be sick now.

*****

It’s 2:15 AM on Tuesday, and I hear Slade’s bedroom door open. Sally nudges me, reminding me that it’s my turn.

“Slade, back to bed,” I bark.

“Geeee,” the two-year-old yells and tears down the hall to our bedroom. He laughs as he runs and crashes into me just as I’m getting up.

“Hi, Dah,” he exclaims, no doubt grinning in the dark.

“Hi, Slade.”

I carry him back to his bed, cover him with a blanket, and tell him that his mom and dad are right here. I remind him that big dudes sleep in their own bed.

Kneeling in his room, my eyes adjust to the dark. LEGOs, wooden train tracks, books, and Hot Wheels cover most of the floor. Eli sleeps on his side, and Slade lies on his stomach, unexpectedly still.

For an instant, I flash to a year ago. I go back to Slade wailing and wailing. I remember watching the boys sleep, my guilt a stone in my gut. And I feel Timmy’s ghost.

He hasn’t left me all together, Timmy’s ghost. He skulks under the dresser and lurks in the cloudy parts of my mind, and one day he’ll sneak back inside my head. That’s the way these things go. But not tonight. Tonight I’m better.

I close the door and amble down the black hall to my bed.

At 2:32, the door opens.

“Back to bed, Slade,” I order.

“Geeee,” the boy squeals as he races towards me, and even in the dark, I can tell he’s smiling.

2011

New year. New blog.

Okay, not really, but one of these days I’m going to work on this sucker and make it look all pretty and professional and stuff. I’m going to write more, too. Yes. One of these days. . .

To kick off the new year, I went for a swim in the lake. This is the third straight year I’ve plunged into the 50-something degree water. Last year and this, Don, a smiling neighbor, joined me. We’ve dubbed it the dumbass dip. Next year, I’m making a tee-shirt to commemorate the stupid tradition.

Before that, before the dumbass dip, Sally and I and the boys and the dogs squeezed into the family wagon and rattled to New Mexico to see family and then drove to Amarillo to visit more family. On the road, there was minor drama and lots of food. There were too many presents and daily naps, too. It was a fine, typical Christmas trip.

When we returned, I swore we’d be gone a year.

And now it feels like we never left.