I would say I’ve been unfaithful, but that would mean I was writing on some other blog and that isn’t it, that isn’t it at all.
I always feel strange when I return, suitcases in hand. I’ve never been so far before. Is that true, exactly, or just how I feel? I can’t tell. I can’t tell if I’m returning triumphantly or with my tail between my legs, and isn’t it all subjective, after all, and don’t all my adventures take on the flavour and texture of a dream, isolated from where they took place?
And then there are the adventures, the experiences that will always seem like dreams, no matter where one stands.
I’m back, for whatever it’s worth, for however long it lasts – and whomever I actually am, nowdays.
It’s always the same; one parent starts to look a little tired, while the other appears normal. Fast forward a certain amount of time, and one of them looks like his or her best friend died, and the other looks like a beautifully well-trained circus seal: plump and sleek and shiny, all over.
Sometimes the seal is a woman and sometimes it’s a man. I haven’t seen any great differential gap between who does the hurting and who gets hurt – between the jellyfish and the seal.
My spam folder isn’t the cheerfully sodden corner it used to be – I am, although it would have previously defied all belief, actually nostalgic thinking of it. The new spam is far too long-winded, definitely rated-G and severely lacking in the ‘dirty imagination’ department. It should probably be styled as new spam! because it’s so terribly positive.
I don’t know if I can adequately convey the completely oppressive nature of it’s technical positivity – well, once when I’d stayed up all night I entertained the director and her accountant with an impromptu sketch of ‘when Mormons go bad’. There was even a dance (energetic but not sexy).
“So you got another guinea pig?” I asked the children. They were eating applesauce and whispering amongst themselves. “You know what happened to the other guinea pig,” Lexie told me, eyes widening like we were sharing a secret. Yes, I knew. “Hopefully this guinea pig won’t leave,” Clary said, nodding for emphasis. “I love Red.”
“His name isn’t ‘Red’ Clary it’s Baxter!” hissed Lexie. “Don’t lie to Miss Lola!”
“I wasn’t lying! I changed my mind and now his name is Red.”
“He isn’t your guinea pig. You don’t get to name him. We had a, a . . . ”
“Vote?” I supplied. All such school decisions are settled by vote. She nodded. “A vote. His name is Baxter.”
“Just because you can reach the light bulbs with ease doesn’t make you into some sort of superior human,” I told him. He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Just leave them alone, Paco,” I wondered which tone of petulance was the right one to use, which one would remind him of his mother –
Right, I reminded myself. He never had one. Mostly.
“Your light,” he started, looking up at the ceiling fixture, “it wants to smash me in the head, and also I think it is dying.” I sighed. He thought everything was after him once he started drinking. My cheap light fixture? Murderous. His wife? Homicidal. The cows on the side of the road? Obviously plotting his doom.
“Come here!” he yelled suddenly, grasping the light bulb, then recoiling and sitting on the ground immediately. “Did you – did you burn yourself?” I asked, my mind jumping between Serves you right – I hope he’s okay! – What are the repercussions to a burned dad? quickly and repetitively. He wiggled his fingers. “Good thing I have this ice-cold beer!” he was cheerful again. I could relax. Mostly.
“Like I told you, Lola,” his grandiloquence – or imitation of it – was returning, “cold beer cures a multitude of sivels.”
“You have to do something about Clary,” Skeletor told me, brows furrowed. She’d just walked in, neglected to shut the door behind her, and was slapping her hair frantically into a ponytail. “You – just – have – to do something about him!” she continued between tugs on the rubber band. Once her hair was up she took several deep breaths to calm herself. I noticed her hands were shaking, and I looked down at Clary. He was watching her, biting his nails and looking worried.
“What’s wrong,” I said, drawing out the words and choosing the tone of voice I keep filed under “soothing.” She looked at me. “There will be no more naps for Clary at school.” I considered. He’s too little for no naps, you know, so I countered with “What makes you say that?” She shot him a stern look, he stopped fidgeting. “When we get home, he’s awake for several more hours. And not only is he awake, he expects to eat and play. I can’t stand it. If you don’t give him a nap then he’ll go home and fall asleep immediately. That is what I need: we go home, he goes to sleep. So no more naps at school, ok?”
“What are you talking about?” I countered before I could stop myself. “He can’t come from school so exhausted that he immediately falls asleep! He gets sleepy in the middle of the day and he needs a nap – all the children do. All children his age do, too.”
“Well that’s not what I need!” she was beginning to get flushed. “I’m going to have to talk to the director herself about this because it is simply unacceptable that I, a parent, make a request of you, a teacher, and you refuse to comply. That is just – I mean, it is just unacceptable.” She turned around, and strode out angrily though the still open door – this time slamming it shut behind her.
Clary was still chewing his nails. I dropped down quickly and hugged him. I felt his head resting on my shoulder, his little fingers pressing into my back with a worrisome amount of pressure. Gradually his breathing slowed. Someday, I thought, your parents will wonder why you have gone out into the world needing so much affection and approval, why, when you were raised with everything.
Should I go to work tomorrow? I turn the thought over in my head, over and over, carefully, like a tangible thing.
Sometimes things end well by not seeming over. The unfinished quality can be a sort of crutch – a conversation that was left on pause, a discussion that was to be resumed, measurements still to be handed over, paint swatches to compare – a deposit, a guarantee. It’s easier, later, to roll all the intangible remaining bits up into a little ball that can sit somewhere until it dissipates.
Goodbye never does what it should, so I don’t say it. It doesn’t provide a pat ending – not even an ellipses. I’ll be there, at work, tomorrow, knowing that I’m about to be gone – temporarily, but far – and there will be no goodbye to create a false sense of urgency, of poignancy. No one will suddenly hijack what should be my experience to tell me that whatever form of transportation I take is the least safe, or how to stay alive five seconds longer if I’m set on fire. Hot Dad won’t start a hugfest that will vividly remind me of chiropractic work. Instead I will hear a long story about how a banana that was supposed to be eaten in the car has somehow made it all over the face, into the pockets, and smeared on the shirt. “Can you tell Miss Lola you’re so sticky?” Offending Parent asks, unaware that his or her child is mortified to be banana-smeared in front of teachers and peers.
The richer the parents, the more inept they are at feeding their offspring a banana. Fact.
I don’t know if I’ll go in tomorrow. My vacation has already technically started. My existing memories of bananas might prove sufficient.