Cayde sat opposite the couch from me mired in spiral-bound notebooks and three-ring binders. He had one ear bud in, the cord of which trailed to the computer, and there was the small tintinnabulation of EDM playing incessant 6/4 time while Cayde typed on the keyboard. His face was illuminated by the laptop screen, underlit like a boy playing with a flashlight beneath the covers, eyes and nose done up in alien shadow. I studied him from across the way, surreptitiously, so as not to interrupt him with my gaze. In between keystrokes he’d reach over and pluck a few grapes from a plate next to him, else crunch on a pita chip dipped in hummus: just a boy doing his homework, without rile. He could almost be described as inexpressive, which made studying him that much more an objective exercise; me tracing the lines of his face with my eyes; following those rounded cheeks down to the jut of his chin; remarking his brow, smooth, yet to be furrowed with the worries of age. The block of his hair fell weightily to the right and threatened need of cutting. Behind Cayde, the living room window reflected the night’s Spanish homework, now beyond my reading level, but Cayde’s eyes flickered along comprehendingly, and the window flickered as quickly, displaying flashes of light and color while Cayde parsed through the various screens.
It occurred to me suddenly, that though Cayden was wrapped in his custom makeshift nest of cushions, pillows and blankets, obviously at home and content; that though his mom and dad were in the room and reflected in the window screen as well; that I didn’t know exactly who Cayden looked like anymore, that I could’ve been looking at a stranger across the playground. Perhaps it was the under-lighting, the martian glow provided by the computer, but suddenly eleven seemed a world away from every myriad age Cayde had been up until this evening, back when his features were recognizable morphs: my eyes, Jenn’s nose, his grandmother’s cherubic cheeks. Now he was just Boy, caught somewhere in between features, on his way to something pre-adolescent and independent of his heredity, if briefly. As if his genes were unloosed and given free expression for a moment, allowed to rearrange to their own liking.
I cocked my head and tried looking at him from a different angle, trying to take him in. I was reminded of the time I visited the Grand Canyon when I was in high school. I was with my friend Ryan, and we were perched on the East Rim overlooking one of the canyon’s sprawling vistas. Unlike anything embossed in miniature on a postcard, the Canyon was immeasurable, irreducible, and no matter of perspective allowed the eye to capture it at once. So, too, looking at Cayde was like trying to minimize something far too expansive to take in at one time. I searched his face for something essential, something recognizable, that would frame him in the moment, as readily as the windowpane behind him squared his figure on the chaise, the reflections in the glass haloed his head in illuminative graphics. He continued typing on the keyboard, occasionally shaking the bangs loose from his forehead; I studied his mannerisms, still careful not to disturb him with my stare, and slowly Cayde emerged, by nature of his small movements. It was like watching a painting come alive, a two-dimensionality wrest its away into the unlikely third, and it was the gestures, the particular way in which Cayde reached for his grapes or the way in which he adjusted the laptop screen, that reminded me of my boy. Still, I couldn’t see myself in him, his mother for that matter either.
On cue, Jenn tapped me on the shoulder from her perch behind me on the orange recliner. “Take a look at these.”
“Hmm? What?” I asked, woken out of my reverie. “Oh,” and I collected a portfolio she had handed me.
I slid the photos from their sheath, and there was Cayde’s face in multiplicate, matte and frozen in smile.
“Doesn’t he look like my dad?” Jenn asked. “Like young pictures of him,” she elaborated.
“I dunno,” I said, squinting. “I was just wondering that I don’t know who Cayde looks like anymore.”
Cayde looked up from his screen, face still illuminated in silver light, and deftly held up his hands between philtrum and his chin. “From here to here, I look like Mommy,” he announced, before returning to finish his Spanish.
His self-awareness is sudden relief and once he closes the laptop, the light-show turned off so that there’s just the nothingness of the window behind him, I in part recognize him again, and he looks up at me which are my eyes, surely; headlamps are passing vagaries in the street and Cayde is occasionally silhouetted, and we look at each other with shared eyes and I slide the school pictures slowly back into their sheath.