Monday, October 17, 2005

Fathers and Sons

Muted electronic beeping, shadows, and the sound of squirting jelly. I wonder if it’s cold as I watch it spread upon the smooth, rounding surface of Tina’s belly. The space of the propped open door, a golden rectangle of light. Concentrated. Glowing. First Born.
…but, silence.
“Dual-lobed placenta.” Nurse says. “See here where the cord is inserted between these two masses? Umbilical cords are typically inserted into a single placental mass.”
“What does that mean for the baby?” A whisper from my wife.
“A dual-lobed insertion sometimes means a dangerous delivery. Occasionally, the cord can detach prematurely and cut off the oxygen to the baby and cause hemorrhaging within the mother… but I am sure everything will be fine. We’ll just need to watch it.”
I watch the ultrasound screen. I see the lines that mean cord, placenta, blood flow—they ungulate and fold into each other: A river at its source, a tree truck; its branches.
My eyes turn back toward Tina’s protrusion, sticky and slick. For a moment I am Nostrodomis, a prophet, a soothsayer. I see shades of a 9-monthed future: Tina, legs splayed, blue, her eyes silently screaming: Lights, Doctor, Nurse, Blood, Chaos, but no child...
Suddenly back at Ultrasound my own eyes focus again on the fuzzy, grey screen. But now I see spine, eye socket, leg, toes and then… penis.
“Do you want to know the sex?’ Nurse says.
“It’s a boy,” I say.
My father is a singer of made up songs. I learned to sing my address and phone number before I could read. If I happened to stray, I knew my song “285 South 400 East!” It was sure to lead me home. Even then I knew the songs were silly—bits and pieces of real melodies, but twisted to serve a practical purpose. Like the notes of a little boy’s address or an harmonic offering of affection directed towards my mother. He sang me through Big Wheel park rides and puddle splashes, surprised and warmed with metaphor when I show him my smiling reflection in a dirty, stagnant, pool of melted snow.
Later, he disciplines, but hesitantly. I am Eldest. I remember a conversation he has with my mom about whether or not to use a belt for a grievous act of child villainy that I had committed. He doesn’t.
Later still, in a library adjacent to my school and his office I remember his face, a combination of consternation and fear as he searches the isles to break up my first kiss. One of his students had tipped him off… too late.
My dad paints. But his lessons were broad stroked—impressionistic. My dad writes. But publishing was never the motivation for our relationship. My dad teaches religion professionally, but he rarely, if ever, preached to me when I lived in his house.
My dad hates to camp. He can barely set up the damn tent. But we went anyway. At the annual “Fathers and Sons” church campout, I was humiliated that long after the neighboring family’s tents seemed appear magically like so many morning mushrooms, we would still be struggling and hammering, staking and yanking the mildewed, twenty year old tent that my dad said “worked great” on his honeymoon. The next morning we would leave right after breakfast.
One teenage evening, much later, I am up late messing around with the cat. Amidst the tormenting, the mutt-cat scratches me deeply across the wrist. I stumble out into the bathroom adjacent to my bedroom, pissed, and began cleaning the bleeding wound. My dad comes in to see what the matter is. Our eyes make contact in the mirror, and I pass out. I fall backwards toward the shower curtain. My back hits the edge of the tub just above my hips and I accomplish a handless backbend.
My fainting immediately transports me to a dreamscape. The dreams are un-stoppable, and full story lines play themselves out. There is a nauseating tug from the other dimension, but I resist. I hear the words. They drift into my gathering consciousness like disconnected memories or precognitions and the words are neither present, past or future. They are spoken tenderly by a distant voice that sounds like my own.
“Sweet... sweetheart! Sweetheart! Wake up!” I force my eyelids open and find myself in a place I hadn’t been in years: my father’s arms. In a moment it is weird and I wiggle out, “I’m alright, Dad. Why does my back hurt?”
Seth is almost two. He too sings songs and gives hugs and bold, slobbery kisses on the mouth. These kisses seem a symbol of his smallness. I will know the very moment when he is my little-boy-no-longer because of an announcement of his emancipation from them. Without shame, I call him “sweetheart.”
He sits this morning watching Dora, Boots and Blue. Weeks ago we discovered that he knew every single one of his letters, and he can count to the teens even though he skips 4 and 5. We hadn’t spent much time going over that stuff with him-- thinking it was too soon to start. It must be the T.V.
He looks at me, beautiful, and smiles. Earlier in the year, he bumped his face on the tile at grandma and grandpa’s house and chipped a little corner off of one of his front teeth. At first I was disappointed, but know now that it just adds to his charm.
“Hi daddy,” he says and then does his favorite new thing: He lifts his little hand and concentrating, rotates it from side to side, waving. He watches his own hand, as if to make sure that he is doing it right. Satisfied, he looks up at me with his nose squished, grinning:
“Wun, two, fee, six! Seben! Et-nine-ten, eeyeben, telve fiteen fiteen fiteen!” He says, and runs up to me throwing his arms around me.
“Oh, daddy. Lub.”
“I love you too, Seffers,” I say.
In a digital snapshot that sits in megabytes on my hard drive, a doctor’s hand is gloved and bloody. She lifts up the opaque, purple, shell-casing: a chrysalis. Two distinct lobes can be seen, while a crying, pink baby is nuzzled, sucking, in the background.

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