Archive for the 'Slade' Category

Slade/It/Whatever

Sometimes we call him It.

“What’s It wearing?” Sally asks Tuesday evening as Slade wanders around the living room with a dog food bowl on his head.

“It’s my hat, Mommy,” Slade answers.

And then Wednesday evening: “Did you hear that?” Sally asks after we put the boys to bed.

“That what?”

“That Thud.” Sally looks slowly left and slowly right like she’s about to share a secret and adds, “It’s still awake. . . And I’m pretty sure It’s up to something.”

***

Early today, at 3:00 or 4:00 this morning, It slides out of its bunk bed, waddles down the hall, and climbs in bed with Sally and me.

“Ouch, Slade,” Sally grumbles. “Be still.”

And later, “No talking, Slade. It’s night night time.”

Later still, It sticks a finger in my ear. I grunt, lift my head off the pillow, and peek at the clock. 5:05. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

“Hi, Daddy!” It whispers.

I grunt again, which makes It giggle, and It hugs or maybe tackles me.

For an instant, I go back to three years ago, almost to the minute. I go back to Sally waking up in drenched sheets, to Sally telling me to call the doctor, to pink blood on the carpet, the bed, the tile, the wall, and all over the toilet. I go back to driving to the hospital, almost certain the baby is dead.

Then I fall back asleep.

“Slade, do you know what today is?” Sally says from inside the bathroom.

I glance at the alarm clock. It’s 5:55 now. Swell.

“Today’s my birthday!” It exclaims in the bathroom.

I slip back in time again, to three years ago, to the waiting room, to the nurse who says placental abruption and C-section and significant blood loss and NICU. I slip back to Eli telling me we should name his brother Pick Pack while we sit, we wait, we hope. I slip back to Sally shaking in the hospital and a 3-pound baby wired to strange machines.

I get out of bed, three years almost to the second that Sally was cut open and our unnamed son was pulled into this life. I make my way into the bathroom.

“It’s my birthday!” It proclaims when It sees me, grinning, raising his arms like It’s won something.

And, you know, maybe It has.

***

Slade. It. Slader Tot. Your Son. Slader Tater. House Tornado. Feral Toddler. We have lots of names for our child, but whatever we call him, we’re grateful to the bone that he pulled through three years ago today, even if he sometimes sleeps too little and ends up in time out almost daily and has a thing for silly hats.

Happy Birthday, Slade/It/whatever. We sure are glad you’re around.

Dudes, I’m like famous and stuff

Okay, not really, but Story Bleed magazine just published an essay I wrote awhile ago. It’s a sentimental piece about monster trucks, people I want to beat up, Metallica, and kids growing up. It’s called Grey Days. Give it a gander at storybleed.com for the next few days.

Also, appearances to the contrary, I am not high on paint fumes in the picture they included. Honest.

Breakfast of champions

I’m pretty sure that this is what my parents, who are visiting from New Mexico and coming up with novel ways of spoiling the grandkids, gave Eli and Slade for breakfast:

That’s right. Ice cream and Butterfingers. For breakfast. Christ almighty.

All that quality programming on TV is to blame. Honest.

I haven’t wanted to blog this summer. I’m not sure why. Maybe the drought here has dried out my brain. Or maybe it’s all the quality programming on TV. Or maybe I’ve just grown soft.

Whichever. Whatever.

I have been writing, though. I can’t help myself. Stories are a flooded river inside my head, and they pour out, in invitations to fictitious birthday parties that only I find funny, in stupid lists, in secret tales I type in the strong current of the night.

Here’s a sample of some of what’s seeped out. As with everything else here, some of this is very personal and most of it is very silly.

***

Some several days ago, I inquired of Sally, my wife, my delicate flower, my forever mate, which she might prefer for her birthday.

“An evening at the ballet?” I suggested. “Or, if you feel particularly adventurous, perhaps we might attend the opera? They’re performing Le nozze di Figaro in German at the Performing Arts Center. Yes! In German! Can you even imagine!”

Sally stared at me, slowly chewing a piece of gum. She sighed.

“Listen,” my beautiful daisy replied. “I want to get shit faced on my birthday. You understand me? I want to get polluted, loaded, plowed, pickled, fucked all the way up. Can you get that through that stone skull of yours?”

She exhaled noisily.

I replied, yes, that I quite well understood her intentions and that I could indeed arrange such festivities, adding that I was acquainted with just the respectable, responsible, upstanding citizens who would very much enjoy conversing with her and raising a glass of well-aged pinot in her honor.

“Whatever,” the love of my life said, scratching her arm pit and sniffing her hand. “I sure as shit don’t mind getting blitzed alone, but I guess it’s okay to have someone there to hold my hair if I puke.”

(Someone to hold her hair! My sweet thinks of the minutest of details!)

Thus, in honor of Sally’s forthcoming birthday, I would like to formally invite you—kindly neighbors, well-regarded friends, custodians of the greater good—to bless us with your presence at the waterfront park commencing at 5:00 this very Saturday. At my darling Sally’s insistence, we will provide an ample portion of an alcoholic beverage she’s dubbed “jungle juice.”

“Pray tell, what is jungle juice?” I inquired when she mentioned the libation. “Is that the vernacular for a martini?”

“Sure. Fine,” said my lovely lady. “Call it a martini. Call it a dingus. Call it whatever faggot name you want.”

(That gentle girl of mine! Inventing such colorful language! Such a card!)

We do so hope that you will be available on Saturday.

***

Slade’s new thing? Licking the floor. Sure. I know. The floor. The good news is that he only does this at day care and he only licks the bathroom floor.

Wait. That isn’t exactly good news, is it?

***

I wonder if I’ll catch that night flicker in your face again. I suspect I will. Some booze-blurry evening you’ll turn just so or giggle until you glow or sink a little, and I’ll glimpse it, electric as a full moon, that night, that kitchen, that pretty girl crying inaudibly on her birthday.

***

Slade’s favorite things:

  • The golf cart. “Golf cart, daddy! Golf cart!” he exclaims over and over and over, which was sweet at first but isn’t now.
  • Taco Bell.
  • His three blankets. He lugs them up and down the stairs and into the kitchen and bathrooms and garage and sometimes out into the front yard.
  • Doodle bugs.
  • School buses.
  • Rocks.
  • Balloons.
  • Grammy and Papoo.
  • Bubbles.

***

I’m trying to get Eli down for the night when he tells me he’s seen a monster.

“Really, Dad. It was standing there.” He points out the bedroom window.

“I see. What’d it look like?”

“Like a monster.”

“You mean purple and breathing fire and tall as a tree?”

“Daaad.”

“What? Oh. That’s right. Monsters aren’t purple. They’re black and they smell like shellfish and they look like enormous poop lumps.”

“Daaaad, monsters don’t look like poop.”

“They don’t?”

“No,” Eli sighs. “Monsters look like monsters.”

Monsters look like monsters. I get that, I think, and I suppose he’s right. Monsters do look like monsters, even if most of the time they appear like you and me.

Some of this matters

Sometimes I should quit. I was reminded of that last week, when, on a whim, Sally and I decided to spend a Chili’s gift certificate that we’d been sitting on for a couple of years.

The meal out started fine. We were seated without a wait. The boys were handed crayons. Our server took our drink order.

But as I paged through the extensive menu, Slade started dropping the crayons and yelling, and Eli kept poking me.

“Dad, Dad, Dad,” he said. “Do you want to play tic-tac-toe?”

“Not right now.”

“Dad, Dad. Can I get a lemonade?”

“Sure. I don’t know. Ask your mother.”

“Dad, Dad. How come I don’t have a green crayon?”

And so on.

Unable to make it through the menu, I finally asked Sally to just order me a sandwich or whatever and dragged Slade to the waiting area where he wouldn’t disturb the old timers next to us who seemed about as warm and personable as a cardboard box.

In the waiting area, Slade pointed at a toy, yanked it away from another kid, bellowed when I intervened, and attempted to throw the toy across the restaurant.

Into time out Slade went.

While Slade sat, an obese boy in a Tapout tee-shirt about Eli’s age waddled into the restaurant with his scruddy family, and I noticed two men drinking alone at the bar, and I remembered why we hadn’t used the gift certificate sooner.

I lugged Slade back to the table and asked Sally if she’d ordered.

“No,” she said. “Our waiter disappeared and I hate this place and I think we should go.”

“Wait? What? We can’t,” I objected. “We already ordered a lemonade.”

“So put two dollars on the table.”

“But we can’t just get up and leave.”

“Sure we can. Put the money on the table and let’s go.”

So we did. We quit dinner at Chili’s. Slade, whose spirits had turned, waved as we slinked past the hostess.

“Bye, bye,” he chirped.

“Thanks for coming, y’all” she said, oblivious or indifferent to our hasty exit.

****

It whispers in my head, commanding me to obey. It tells me to fight this life that’s untidy, loud, and fast. I follow its dictates most of the time. I edge the grass. I make up the bed. I nod and shake hands and laugh when I’m supposed to laugh. That’s what It wants me to do. Get back in line, It orders. Be polite. Don’t ever crack.

Something else whispers, too. Fuck it all, Else tells me. Leave the bed unmade. Dance alone in the dark house.

Laugh.

Let go.

Break sometimes.

Believe.

****

Mornings are a stupid sprint. Before the sun rises, Sally and I scramble to feed, clothe, and brush teeth. We pack snacks, favorite blankets, homework, reading logs, extra jackets, and sometimes lunch. We sign report cards, Tuesday folders, and day care forms. We scribble checks for the maid and the PTA and the class fund-raiser. We make coffee and part hair. We wipe mouths and noses and counter tops.

We remind: “10 minutes, Eli.”

We reprimand: “Stop flushing the toilet, Slade.”

We repeat: “Have a good day, Wife.” “Have a good day, Husband.”

And before 7:00 AM, Sally is listening to NPR in the car with Slade, and I’m standing at the bus stop with Eli.

Monday morning was particularly chaotic thanks to a late start, the disappearance of Eli’s third jacket this winter, and a knot in his shoe a minute before the bus’ scheduled arrival. But Eli, the dogs, and I made it in time and stood at the corner, breathing hard. It felt like we’d won a race.

Then Chuck peed on my shoe. I thought it was raining on my shoe and looked down, and there was Chuck, 100 pounds of lazy canine, with his leg raised.

“BAD, BAD, BAD DOG,” I exploded, yanking him back by collar. “You sit, Chuck. You sit and you stay.”

“What’d Chuck do, Dad?”

“He peed on my shoe.”

Eli laughed.

“Why’d he do that, Dad?”

“Who knows, Eli. Who knows.”

Let go, Else said. None of this matters. Let it go.

“Chuck, why did you do that, dude?” Eli asked. Chuck wagged his tail and looked up meekly, his ears back and his head down.

“I’m totally telling all my friends,” Eli exclaimed. “That’s awesome.”

“Um, yeah, I don’t know if I’d call it awesome.”

Eli stepped towards the bus, which had squeaked to a stop, and turned back: “Yes it is. It’s awesome.”

“Again. Not really,” I said, grinning a little now. “Hey, have fun today. And try to learn something for once.”

As the school bus smoked away into the grey day, Eli waved from his seat and smiled and mouthed “awesome” one more time.

****

It’s not awesome, but it is something, this time, this family, these small stories. And despite what Else whispers, some of this does matter: The grinning boy in the window of the clattering bus and the misbehaving two year old in the restaurant and the sleep-starved wife and even the apologetic dog. Some of this matters very much.

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.

5:45 AM

Our toddler wakes up at 5:45 AM every morning. No matter how late he stays up or how long he naps or how much the boy waddles around the yard, at 5:45, the babbling begins.

We have, on average, five minutes, before the babbling turns to complaining and then to wailing. If it comes to that, to Slade crying so loudly that the dogs pant, we all get up. Sally will make coffee, and I’ll hand the boys bananas, and I’ll unload the dishwasher, and I’ll look around and realize, holy hell, it’s Saturday and the sun still isn’t up.

Most mornings, Sally, who leaves for work before sunrise, scoops the talking toddler up and hauls him into the bathroom with her as she puts herself together. Drifting in and out, I’ll hear “Slade, turn off the water” and “Slade, the toilet is not a toy” and “Slade, can Mommy have her scissors back please?”

This morning it was “Slade, let’s not eat the deodorant” followed by “I mean it, no deodorant” followed by “okay, that’s it” followed by Slade yelling.

Yesterday, the deodorant-licking boy turned two. The 731 days have felt long, but the two years themselves have rifled past. That’s the way it goes, I think. You push and you push in a life that feels like a race but passes like a smooth dream. You wake up and you go hard and sometimes, driving alone or washing dishes or watching the baby sleep, you wonder where it all went.

We didn’t do much to celebrate Slade’s birthday. We gave him a couple of presents. (I have it on good authority that one, a talking Elmo toy, is soon to lose its batteries forever.) We ate cupcakes. Then we put the boys to bed and shuffled off to bed ourselves before the local news even started. We need our rest. 5:45 arrives very loud and very early.