Boys on the Double

Jenn goes to GFit more evenings than not. When the car leaves the driveway, Cayde inevitably announces–‘it’s ‘Boy Time!’ while Finn toddles the house and creates new and geometric sculptures out of his toys, stacking cars and dolls and otherwise plastic pieces into the shelves and hollows of our home. He’s very determined in his task, always, chin down and lower lip protruding. The entire house gets decorated in Hasbro. I try to play records on the stereo, but Finn stomps the rooms straight-legged and diplodocus-like; meanwhile Cayde cannot contain his urge to spontaneously back-flip into the couch cushions. The records always skip in time with the boys’ seismic mismanagement of things, and I wind up just having to stop the needle.
“What’re we gonna do, Daddy?” Cayde asks, upside-down on the orange recliner, his hair all fanned out.
Boys. Jeezus. I rarely was one, or maybe I’ve just been grown-up for too long.
The other day I took Cayde to the park for pitching practice–Friday–and the field was abandoned. I had new bifocals, and the mound was freshly manicured. I told Cayde to wait a sec, and leveled my shoe against the rubber. I hadn’t been on a mound in thirty years, but threw five straight strikes before attempting a side-arm curve-ball that went way left of orbit.
Way left.
Cayde laughed at me. We practiced and wound up running into some old SeaWorld friends who were there to do hitting practice with their son. We relinquished the mound and shagged balls till near sun-down, this kid pounding flies relentlessly to center and Cayde pumping his legs in attempt to get them before they bounced over the fence.
“I shagged fourteen!” Cayde announced, only three having skipped the boundaries of the diamond, over the chain-link and into the grass beyond the home-run line.
I’m not usually this energetic. Cayde’s near nine; I worried I’d have broken him by now. Eight was the age I was irrationally scared of, age eight being the diving board quivering over the fact of nine and ten, that hesitation before the teenage years, before the drop into the acerbic and chlorine-blossomed world of adolescence. I panic over losing my boy. Meanwhile, my eyes are noticeably older.
“What’re we gonna do?”
I snap on the burners and harbor the kids into the kitchen. Finn wants some grapes and gets them: “Tank you da-da-daddy-pa-pa.” He doesn’t know when to stop the syllables. He cuts the grape in half with his teeth and it’s the best sound.
I make a molé quesadilla for Finn, throw some pans around and do a black bean chicken burrito for Cayde. This I’m good at.
I let Cayde pick out some songs on the iPad and Finn wanders away from his dinner to jump–his new-found joy and ability–and Cayde follows suit, dancing in the kitchen. I’m still flipping tortillas on the range and browning what needs to be browned. I stop at saying, ‘Stop.’ I forget sometimes being a boy. I don’t tell them to get back in their seat.
We resume, we happen. We stomp and air guitar, forever high on the neck, playing our trouser legs like Les Pauls, occasionally thrumming an always low-slung bass–too cool to play it high and to the chest–just being boys, boys on the double, and  before Mom gets home.

Ships

The one agreeable ship on the horizon is a cargo freighter, its leaden silhouette gaining color as the sun dials upward. The bulwark is a rusty red, the upper parts gray. Because it’s the safest boat one mile out, there are a number of sail-ships surrounding it, small flecks of triangular light—near fifty—rounding its bulk and flashing white. It’s a beautiful day, and despite a surf advisory, both low and high tide still remain within reason. Cayde mounts the surf, immune to the cold, and gets his shoulders wet, eventually his hair

I count: there are three amphibious landing vessels, two destroyers, and a single cruiser also marking the horizon. They’re in a particular tetris. Some are aft-forward, others remain parallel to the shore.

You forget, sometimes, this is a military town; rather you forget that it’s actively military.

The coastal architecture is usually a line of staid ships, anchored and matte gray: an unmoving buttress, typically. The ships almost count as a line of vacant tenement buildings. In other cities there are the gantry cranes and freight containers all robotically alive, factual even, in the heft and physics of industry.

The San Diego Embarcadero, meanwhile, features a series of moored carriers and cruisers. In between are museums to the fact of retired carriers and motionless battleships–empty conning towers and stopped radar dishes.

There are so many antennae on point. The pelicans, contrarily, float a lazy line, catching the draughts. They else circle upwards on the thermals.

Cayde is excited that we’re going to the beach, more so a beach where there is an actual shipwreck. A shipwreck!

The El Nino has stripped the Coronado Shores of sand, and with the vernal equinox having just passed, the white and daytime moon pulls the water back like a neatly- peeled bed sheet. The tides are recessive and revealing.

The remains of a gambling boat appear, the barge a now shipwrecked thing buried in the sand, trefoil in shape, all patina and barnacle. Red algae furs the hull. When standing on the bow, Cayde points a hundred feet west out into the water, and there’s the prow’s figurehead barely cresting the waves, tangled in sea grass and an eddying foam.

This was a Prohibition boat, liquor and loose petticoats. You used to dodge the law by leaving land and taking your vices toward the horizon. There were no handcuffs, no anchors.

We’re on the beach with friends. We stash a bottle of Grigio and a bomber of IPA beneath the stroller and shield the bounty with a towel. Alcohol on the beach is still illegal here. Sand clings to the bottles’ hips, making Braille of the perspiration. On the horizon and swiftly travelling north, an aircraft carrier passes the Point.

I say to myself: this is all an exercise.

The sailboats stay out of the way, still circling the freighter moth-like. Small ships circle big ships, a curious reaffirmation of molecules and how things are held together.

We’ve set up a canvas teepee for Finn as sunshade, and Jenn’s whimsically decorated it with seagrass, dried to a leathery crepe; also ropes of kelp. Seashells and ocean-polished rock comprise a walkway, and the ‘front yard’ is littered with plastic toys. Finn putters on the beach, thankfully no longer eating the sand as he did when he was two, when his mouth would be ringed in dirt that was both dark and sparkly at once. Putter-putt-putt.

His teepee is a curious homage to this particular beach. We’re south of the Hotel Del Coronado, made a National Historic Landmark the year I was born. When John Spreckels owned the hotel a century ago, a tent city sprung up along the shoreline, a series of either thatched or striped affairs furnished with beds and rocking chairs, washstands, linen and lamps. There was a provisional theater; a reputable steakhouse serving twenty-five cent rib-eyes; a menagerie of ostriches, monkeys, and seals. A diving horse performed four times a day.

Daily registers featured Pacific Steamship timetables as well as railway schedules.

At 12:45, after two hours of serving vague menace, the destroyers break position and travel in opposite directions. The amphibious vessels stay stubbornly in place. The cruiser is gone and I’ve never seen a carrier, in all its enormity, round the Point so quickly as to become disappeared. This is broad daylight and the sun is apparently a vaporizing thing.

Cayde and his friend Bear are exclaiming the shipwreck, constantly boomeranging its way, from towel to tide, with their feet making running slapping sounds in the slurried sand.

“Shipwreck!”

“Let’s go!”

It’s boys being two-parts excited and one-part piratical, looking to conquer either which way.

They grandstand on the stern, Bear with his skinny white arms flexed and Cayde yawping and jumping into the surrounding puddles with resolutely flat feet. It’s as if they sank this boat themselves, their collective and boyish enthusiasm a victory flag.

(The gambling-boat is, meanwhile, a century-gone thing, a relic greenly bronzed and stuck in mud. An old man resting in a sandy mausoleum).

Jenn is new-bodied, and she holds down her dress against the wind. She’s long-fingered like her Grandma—she actually wears her Grandma’s wedding rings seeing as they fit her better than the ones I granted her—and wears big sunglasses and a floppy hat. She shares a name with her friend: they’re Jenn and Jen. The lot of us weild red cups with varying amounts of spirit. Behind us are seven buildings, the buildings named after the shores they replace. They’re ‘Coronado Shores’, white buildings that beg a Miami comparison. They’re too tall and wouldn’t have been built were the Coastal Commission had been instated three years sooner.

I try and figure out why the buildings are angled as they are, silly dominoes that can maybe end in collapse given the right seismic push; I had my first kiss here, late in adolescence and late in the sand; earlier, Orville Redenbacher was lifted out of the whirlpool where he had expired and where he was found at 7 a.m., cold in the hot tub.

Coronado has its history: Frank L. Baum and Charles Lindbergh and Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn and her bare midriff in ‘Some Like it Hot.’ My first kiss here was nice, the later kisses nicer.

Finn runs out to the surf, then back. We make a game of not touching the water. He stomps the foam, runs a fast reverse. He laughs the same as when he was a few months old, the water touching his toes, him inhaling his laughter.

Cayde and Bear mount the shipwreck, and I run Finn back and forth. Jenn is pretty, her torso an upside-down fleur-de-lys.

I’m reading Hemingway, this story where Nick avoids sleep by writing somnambulistic narratives; it’s supposed to be wartime and Hemingway writes it like it’s all about stopped rifles, but really it’s about realizing you can’t always sleep, and how you make up things when you can’t sleep. Hemingway wrote this as a late-stage alcoholic, no sleep being a side effect of excess. Fitzgerald wrote something similar, so did Cheever. They were all swimmers. They all wrote about water. They all wrote about drowning.

(At one point, Hemingway emptied his lungs of air, deep into his liquor, and slipped off the back of his ship, Pilar; he remembered he had three sons, and, resurfaced, gasping)

Cayde makes his way to the prow, atop a ship. And the ships both go away and stay on the horizon. All these vessels at once.

The amphibious boats sit heavy, their bellies un-deployed, and the sailboats remain light and away, white flags upon white flags.

Cayde jumps up and down on the stern. You can’t tell it’s a stern.

“Daddy!”

“What, Cayde?”

“Take a picture!”

I do, the ship maybe buried and pointed north.

 

 

 

Accidental Volcanoes

Cayden suggests an experiment.
“Let’s erase copper from the pennies!” (It’s something he saw on Bill Nye). Not one to disparage curiosity, I agree to his recipe.
“We need a jar.”
“Ok.”
“250 millimeters of vinegar. That one you have.”
“I have all sorts of vinegar, friend. White, probably. Also you mean milliliters.”
“Yeah–millimeters.”
“Milliliters.”
“That’s what I said: millimeters!”
I just shrug and pour into the Pyrex: 250 mL.
“What next?”
“Baking soda.”
“Baking soda?”
“Baking soda.”
“Ya’ wanna get me a lid, dude? How much?”
“A tablespoon.”
“Are you sure?”
“YES!”
“You’re making a volcano–you know that, right?”
He drops in two pennies, I drop in the baking soda and screw on the lid as fast as I can. Cayde bangs his head on the cabinet door jumping back.
“You ok?” and Cayde is laughing, the science experiment puddling the floor, also all in his hair.
“Yeah.” I’m glad he’s laughing. “I’m gonna go take a bath, Daddy,” he says.
Toweling off in his bedroom, I hear Cayde all of a sudden say, “Hey!”
“What, Cayde?”
“Salt! I meant salt, Daddy–not baking soda.”
The pennies are still very coppery in the jar in the sink. Science and all.

The Theory of Gravity

We’re descending Pershing where spring is early. The sour grass and ice plant have bloomed courtesy of the rain, and the resulting palette is fuschia, yellow-green. It’s my favorite and clashingly neon combination. The aloe should sprout soon, too, adding vermillion to the mix.

We’ve established that Daddy likes the song on the radio—not because Daddy has said so —but because Cayden has employed a particular logic in determining this.

“Do you like this song?”

“Yeah, it’s one of my favorites.”

Cayde smiles, self-satisfied, and talks fast as he always does when rushing to a point.

“I know because you said you like every song by Interpol and this is Interpol so I know you like this song.”

He smiles and looks left out the backseat window.

The transitive property: ‘If a=b and b=c, then a=c.” Logic, as we pass plants where bright flowers spring from otherwise grey under-leaves.

The military hospital is in view to the right and across the canyon. A few weeks back, when returning home from the a.m. school drop-off, I was vigorously waved up Pershing by a battery of white-gloved police officers. The news was reporting a live shooter in the hospital basement. Traffic was stopped in the canyon by black and white cars and red flashing lights. The otherwise ascending traffic, the line of cars headed up Pershing, was hurried up the hill—go go go.

“Thanks for taking me to school early,” Cayde says. He has plans to meet his friend before the bell because, as Cayde announces, “We’re writing a book.”

I’m proud, therefore punctual.

“We want to publish it when we’re done.”

The view of the hospital recedes. Turns out, there was no shooter in the basement. Later that day, after the police cars dispersed, the only shooters were the guys with tripods and telephoto lenses set up on Pershing’s west edge, innocuously shooting the hospital for news that didn’t exactly happen.

“I think you told me, Cayde, but what’s your book called? ‘The Theory of Gravity’, right?’

We’re at the stoplight, at the bottom of Pershing and waiting for green. Cars are turning left into the canyon and toward the hospital. I’m thinking of last night’s Florida primaries, which were disappointing. The canyon’s name, incidentally, is Florida: simple Spanish for ‘flowered’. Cars turn toward the brick hospital where the basement was found empty of spent shells, but where there was still resonant fear. The transitive property, kinduv.

At the stoplight, and by the still-dormant aloe, is a guy with a hand-lettered sign saying, ‘Anything can help.’

“Yeah, but I think we might change the name,” Cayde says. “Maybe just ‘Gravity.’

“Why’s that?”

“Well ‘theory’ just means you’re only thinking of something, that you don’t know something.”

“So what are you sure of then?” I ask, curious. “What’s your book about?”

We’re driving through the green, and I have to swerve the car slightly because there’s a CalTrans truck with lights blinking, a group of orange-vested workers jumping off its trailer and tossing hazard cones into the street.

“We’re writing about why the earth has more gravity than the moon.”

“That’s cool. I like the ‘Theory of Gravity,’ though. It’s a good authorial title, “ and I say ‘authorial’ Alistair Cooke-like, amusing myself, knowing Cayden doesn’t know how I’m being funny. I click the blinker to turn left, signaling a drive up the B St. incline.

“Well, ‘theory’ is like ‘hypothesis’ and I’m positive there’s more gravity on earth than the moon,” Cayde insists.

Cayde’s assured of something. I try and explain the scientific method to him while driving up B St., past the reconstructed houses in this fast-gentrifying neighborhood. The windows on the delipadated Victorians have recently been un-shuttered, and suddenly there are ‘For rent’ signs.

“Well, a theory’s means more than a hypothesis. You start out with a hypothesis, and then you do your experiments, and it becomes theory. You know—the theory of gravity, evolution. Theory’s something just short of fact.”

Changing gears on the uphill, I ask: “So why’s there more gravity on earth?”

We’re halfway up B, and in some strange loop, the CalTrans truck reappears from a cross street, still cordoning off lanes with signs and cones.

In the rear-view, Cayde’s hair is in his eyes. “Well, because the moon has no atmosphere.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” I test him. If this is going to be a published work, there needs to be peer review.

Finn speaks up for the first time, otherwise having been pretzeled in the back-seat, feet by his ears.

“Thing!” he yells, “Tzing!”

“Because there’s no oxygen on the moon, Daddy,” Cayde says matter-of-factly.

I continue to test him as we drive past 21st: “What does oxygen have to do with physics?” (What does this have to do with breathing?)

There’s a liquor store on the corner of 22nd and we’re pulling to a stop at the top of the hill.

Cayde frowns. “Oh, yeah.” He mumbles, “Physics. Inertia. Momentum.” He counts on his fingers. He’s too smart; I worry.

There is the coefficient K and we’re at the top of the hill.

(When Cayde was three, we sat in a splintery jungle gym in the backyard, and the sun hadn’t set. There was a chalky white moon, halved, on the horizon above the yucca tree. It was the Children’s Moon, the premature moon, which kids can see before the sunset.

‘You see that?’

‘It’s pretty’).

What does physics have to do with anything, or with the new ‘Rent’ sign in the window.

I see a jet way high, too high. I get nervous seeing the contrails, a vessel above the clouds. The higher the plane, and the smaller the plane, the more anxious I become.

I kiss Cayden when dropping him off.

“Love you, Kid.”

“Love you, Daddy!”

Driving home, and past the hospital, there are no white-gloved officers. It’s nice being on land, but the news is still and always bad. I bypass Florida, the sourgrass and the iceplant, the news on the radio less than the flowers.

“You remember that Einstein was righter than Newton?”

(I can’t believe I’m saying this to an 8yo)

But, Cayde says, “Yeah.”

According to the theory of gravity, mass displaces everything, like a round object dimpling a swath of fabric. Gravity isn’t a pull, not a push, but a weight.

It’s unbelievable: on the way home, I have to re-arrange my route. The CalTrans guys are still grinning and tossing cones onto the street, spring-heeled and leaping from the flatbed. I have to go down 16th instead of the big hill, turning past the chain-links where there are no cones, just a simple downhill coast, where I turn at the bottom, not having to stop once.

Righting the Morning, Later

Cayde wandered into the bedroom this morning, rubbing his eyes. He asked Jenn: “Where’s Daddy?”
“At work already, Baby,” she said. Cayde burst into tears.
“Why didn’t he say good-bye to me? He ALWAYS says good-bye to me.”
I do. I always climb into bed with him for at least one minute to connect in the morning, to make the day right before it becomes un-right. Days tend to un-right, the nature of things.
I’d put the kids to bed the night prior, all of us in the lower bunk,and Cayde fell asleep with his face pressed firmly to the wall. Found him in the same position this morning, still sleeping. I kissed him on the head while I juggled my coffee, the morning acrobatic of either needing coffee, or just needlessly caffeinating myself. He stirred a second.
“Cayde,” I said over the phone a few hours later, “You know I did say good-bye. You were just asleep.”
“Ok, Daddy.” He wasn’t convinced.
When I get home, he’s playing with a football outside. The next door dog is puking on the lawn, and Cayden grabs me to inspect the mess.
“You’re good with animals, Daddy,” he says, wanting me to diagnose this.
“It’s alright, Cayde,” I say, “He was just eating grass.”
Cayde was afraid the dog was dying, and in that 8yo way got scared that everything was soon not going to be there, like kisses good-bye in the morning.
He made me promise double-snuggles tonight. I was supposed to leave the bed once, then return to make twice the cuddles–his mandate. But I didn’t do that exactly. Just held my boys both at the same time until they fell asleep.

Groom and Bride

Jenn is half-dressed this morning, and we’re ferrying kids from room to room in the impossible task of readying everyone for school.

“Seriously, Cayde—get up. Mom has to turn in grades.”

He’s bunched into a blue blanket with a sad-face on.

“I have a stomachache.”

I don’t doubt him actually, considering the messes I’ve had to clean up this weekend. Still I know when he’s putting on the pretend.

“Get UP, Dude. You can stay in the nurse’s office or something. I hafta go to work, too.”

Finn is saying, ‘Mommy’ on repeat, Oedipus ad infinitum. I tug him into a long-sleeve because it’s raining out.

“Mommy, Mama.”

(Yeah, yeah).

The diaper’s changed and most the uniform on before Finn squirms his way out the room, his feet little dinosaur poundings on the floor.

The kettle whistles. Cayden is suddenly dressed and wanting to explain a math problem to me in great detail. His hair’s a problem, but I need to catch a shoeless Finn who’s reaching for appliances and making a game of throw-everything.

Jenn and I meet rolled-eyes in the living room, she still just in a cardigan, jeans, and a bra; hurrying. Needs to curl her hair. The handyman will be here at nine and grades are due at 8:15. I have a shift that’ll end at dark:thirty.

This is the morning and not night, but we’re ships passing. I stop and catch Jenn by the shoulder. She turns around and spontaneously I sweep her up and off her feet. She’s light now. I can do this.

Cayde says: “Hey! Are you groom and bride or something?“, wanting in on the hug. Finn crashes into my leg wanting the same.

Jenn and I crossed the threshold years ago, met the threshold a few times since.

In which case, I simply tell Cayden, “Yes.”

 

How to Make Tomato Soup in the New Year

When dragging in the fire hoses, I knock over a penguin and penguins—being like bowling pins—are easy to knock over. Also like bowling pins, they’re not quick to right themselves. They make instead a display of their frustration with flailing pink feet and wings doing snow-angel things in the ice.

“Goddammit.”

I right the Adelie, tugging on his flipper and setting him upright.

“Get up, Kid. Sorry.”

The Adelie chaws his disagreement, eyes widened and head feathers splayed while I ready the hose.

I like this particular penguin. He certainly doesn’t like me currently, and says so.

I’m not caffeinated enough.

When properly righted, the Adélie stretches to his full length, blue and gleaming-bodied. He defiantly pins his wings to his sides and begins a reprimand. His crural feathers are in disarray when standing on tip-toe, with a head gigantic and eyes big.  The rest of his body is evolutionarily trained to look compact and impenetrable. He’s mad and fisticuff-ready.

The bird chatters a long discontent and I say again, attaching a nozzle to the length of the jacketed hose, “Sorry, Dude.”

Also: “Oh, shut up.”

I’m agitated.

I’m in the penguin exhibit and needing to thaw out the ice that I laid down yesterday for the birds—a few tons of it—needing to erase things down to concrete before laying on more snow. There’s always this process of whitening the exhibit. ‘Rinse-and-repeat’ and ‘do-it-again.’ The birds are goldfish-like, rediscovering the castle every time. They bury their heads in the fresh laid drifts as if the snow were something irretrievably new.

The Adélie’s still mad with white eye-rings dilated. He menacingly snakes his head back and forth in a prolonged and disgruntled filibuster.

The bird’s equal to my boot-stop, somewhere mid-calf, and remains the source of many bruises. A long time ago, he memorized the start of my calf—just north of where the boot ends—and has capitalized on his discovery. He’s a small and angry creature, growling with what sounds like a bone in his throat. His beak is a weapon. My purpled calf can be submitted as evidence. I start the hose and work on thawing the ice.

(It’s said the Inuit tribe has forty different words for forty different types of snow. I appreciate the lexiconical thoroughness. Snow certainly has different forms. There’s ‘aput’ and ‘piqsirpoq’—’pack snow’, ‘drift snow’).

Meanwhile, we have a machine that creates ice for the penguins, a gigantic set-up, with these digital read-outs that analyze conductivity within the briny wellspring, probes that measure salinity and temperature. The snow collects upwards in a large silo before finally being delivered into the exhibit.

The Adélie settles, folds his feathers back upon his ears. Our standoff is temporarily over. I continue thawing the ice and need deal with the snow machine later–more hoses, unfortunately. Always the lugging of things back and forth in this penguin neé goldfish forgetfulness game.

Thawing the ice takes a few hours. It’s time enough to think, which can either be good or bad dependent on ‘aput’ or ‘piqsorpoq’, those specific Inuit words for snow. It could also be good or bad depending on whether or not the pillow was kind the night prior.

My mind wanders. I remember this article I read regarding the fast-melting glaciers, the ice caps that have been disappearing for years. In recent times, the thaw has been more sudden. Everything is in quick-dissolve it seems. The guano-stained snow I’m currently flushing down the drain entertains a currently dumb and nascent parallel.

Bodies and artifacts are unearthed with the glaciers melting, leathery corpses the color and wrinkle of dates.  The bodies are sometimes big as mastodons. Also exhumed are the long-hibernated pathogens—these needling and small things—,which can suddenly aerosolize, becoming renewedly dangerous after eons of rest. Long after we’ve lost immunity.

(Jenn asked me over dinner one night: ‘What happens when it comes back?’ which ruined the cheese course. It was, however, an important question. Things have a way of returning).

While finishing the thaw, the once-buried herringbones collect over the drains. They are later the things penguins will pick at as items of both morbid and culinary interest. Meanwhile, the Adélie is no longer agitated; I lug in the snow hose to blow snow, hopefully to keep things frozen.

**

The light’s streaming from the east, the sun arcing higher now in the New Year. I’ve always disliked the easterly light. Its shadows cast westward, reliably short beneath the front and east-facing windows. Shadows get stuck in the gable and beneath the plants.

It’s a stubborn circadian thing, my dislike of the morning. I’m not synched up to the dawn. The sunrise to me is exposure, never a new beginning. I prefer the deep and bas-relief a setting sun instead provides. It carves new places to hide comfortably.

When Jenn and I moved in together, there was a particular homesickness that accompanied our living situation. It was our first run at adulting, us trying to afford a futon, a bed, groceries even. There were weeks when the bank account was whittled to $3.95. Less than a fiver to last us until the following Friday. Jenn would often retreat home on the weekends to do laundry in a house peopled by her brothers, her mom and her dad. It was light there most hours. Our apartment, meanwhile, was always dark, even in the daytime. Sandwiched between two neighboring buildings, the apartment was forever in a constant and concrete eclipse. Even the fern died, though I watered it religiously.

The real dark was best, come 6 p.m. or so. Out the front window, the step-stairs disappeared and the next-door lights clicked on, visible only between slats in the fence.

The under-girding of the upstairs balcony partially blocked the front window, so the view was minimal: picket boards, two erstwhile hawthorn shrubs and an anemic bougainvillea snaking its way upward from our doorstep to the second-floor railings.

Nighttime was relief. Always the stereo on and a record spinning, shallots and garlic hitting the pan in my first attempts at cooking. The kitchen was stubbornly ‘Harvest Gold’ though it was 2001.

(I won’t mention the cockroaches–the ones that had made their way into the oven displays, eventually getting stuck there in the little windows, unable to get out, regardless looking comfortable).

Get old enough and you realize there may be only certain intersections of time and geography where you feel comfortable. All this while  your chemistries require accordance to a specific set of spatial and circadian demands.

Is it just me?  I’ve historically disliked 3 pm. I dislike eastern light, too.  Also flat places–those cursedly flat streets with houses graded on the equal. I become agitated, almost agoraphobic, without walk-ups and the cover of trees.

When first looking for a rental house, Jenn increasingly pregnant, Jenn called me at work and said she’d found a place. THE place. It was on Greg Street, and the house was nice enough, but with a pink ceramic bathroom and a screened-in back porch needing repair. The house was on a horribly even street, one block up from where an airliner had crash-landed the year after I was born. The plane: it scraped the street greater than level.

(This is my particular, but historically accurate, embellishment. A PSA airliner crashed and left a memorial plaque on the sidewalk. A friend of mine lived a block east that exact year. Coming home from a shift at the local hospital, she found body parts on her front lawn. Her shift had already been burdened with body parts so the forearm on her porch was something superfluous).

I expressed my particular and neurotic, “No,” a quiet shake of the head, and Jenn cried in frustration because we’d been looking a long time for a house in this neighborhood. It should’ve been a ‘yes’ from me, pink toilet regardless.

We did find a house, though, on Herman Ave., and only a mile up. It had a hundred year-old sycamore overhanging the roof, also a minor walk-up to the front door. There was a gable, and the house was elevated. Had there been a pergola, some florid cover, it would’ve been perfect. In absence of a roseate bathroom,we signed the lease. Eight years later, it remains our home.

**

Jenn and I switch seats at breakfast. Jesus–this glaring window, the insufferable east light again, and the kids all  ramped up. This was supposed to be the easy and enjoyable part of the day. A Benedict at ‘Great Maple’ before managing a drive through the neighboring hills. North, and slightly east. Finn is wrapped around my neck, Cayde’s something non-stop. There’s also the fact of banging spoons and cutlery on the floor.

Last night, I lost the Great Book Debate. For the nineteenth time, Cayde read ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ in lieu of anything new or substantial. It’s a calorically empty book, and I’m aggravated at myself for being aggravated. Cayde puts down books in speeds I can’t fathom. Cayde’s sometimes like me, other times remarkably not. I’ve gotta stop expecting to see me in him all the damn time.

Shut the fuck up, Thom. Cayde’s Cayde.

(Still, I got him ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ especial and he seemed so excited when I talked it up as much as I did…)

I’m devoting myself fully into hating ‘Wimpy Kid’ while I should instead be enjoying breakfast. There are forkfuls of chèvre-stuffed zucchini blossoms, balsamic tomatoes. Goddamn ‘Wimpy Kid’ and all its stick figure drawings. Now every kids’ book has fifty percent fewer words. I try to focus on the plate in front of me. I’m not doing myself any good.

The potatoes have herbs d’provence and the Benedict is built atop a pop-over, so there is something lavender and airy about the plate, the poached eggs neatly trimmed of their egg-white tails. The tomatoes are roasted properly, but I’m in disagreement with the strawberry reduction.

Cayden, meanwhile, has taken up a coloring book and his crayon is cherry wax-flavored; Finn is tucked into a pancake, and it’s simply got maple syrup, a pat of butter.

I think the pop-over too eggy, the window too bright. On a Saturday morning, this is just way too much grey cloud thinking. Over the top. Arrogant.  Because I find the reduction a quick and neat approximation, not an actual reduction,  my cloud takes on a funneling under-shape. I’m an asshole for judging the line cook. He didn’t reduce the sauce thick enough to properly coat a spoon. Strawberries aren’t even in season.

(There’s only a 180 occupant load currently overspilling the leatherette booths, also the constant and tintinnating sound of forks against plates. The waitress is in training and the coffee–which I’ve had too much of–makes me anxious. I’m sure the line cook has to be hustling back there behind the swinging aluminum doors).

I’m restless. We’re going to look at houses to live in.  I have to switch seats because Finn’s pressing against my face now in his idea of a hug. His breath is something different with new and soft teeth—all puppyish—with his mouth awkwardly open-mawed against my cheekbone and lower-eyelid.

Jenn and I switch seats. I eat my food while the kitchen hastens dishes to the front of the house. I continue to hate eastern light. I continue to be a jerk. I hate myself for this weed of agitation that keeps springing up, this goddamn agitation goddamn.

**

Tierrasanta translates roughly to ‘Holy Ground.’ It exists back and behind the community where I grew up, on the northeastern slope of Cowle’s Mountain. To be more specific, Tierrasanta lies north of both Cowles’ and Fortuna, nestled in the upper plateaus south of the naval airfields. Tierrasanta overlooks a valley that was long-ago both dairyland and floodplain. It’s now an unwisely-engineered interstate with a parallel and adjunct business district, a thoroughfare lined with big-box outlets and mixed-utility complexes.

There’s a murmuration of birds over the Best Buy. We see this from a ridge at the last town home community we’re both visiting and ranking, and the birds do their thing, approximating the respiration of bellows, seeming to displace air when they needle in tight, the flock reducing itself to a line. Best Buy is neon at ten o’clock in the morning, which is absolutely unnecessary in the daylight.

The townhouses are ok. Nice. The brass tacks about living in San Diego: it’s downright unaffordable. We have monies passed down in that guilty thing we call inheritance; and while we meantime make a decent living ourselves, we still can’t buy 800 sq. ft. in a place we want, and really we don’t want much. It’s a certain brand of obscene. The only available option is to buy a house with a shared wall, and with paid-for maintenance; a shrunken patio as excuse for a backyard; and with communal pathways that approximate a front yard.

It could be convenient, and something you might want as a forty year-old, if unwilling to do the fixer-upper dream and while having a severe adversion to mowing the lawn. It could also be just a bummer, depending on how you convince yourself.

It’s this mid-life compromise, when you ask: does it really come down to this? Peggy Lee singing, ‘Is that all there is?’ while you hope the wall you share with your neighbor involves laundry or the kitchen, not the bedroom because keeping things at half-volume seems an unfortunate concession. To be forty and fucking on the quiet seems something adolescent, not something belonging to a responsible homeowner with a mortgage.

“The walkway’s nice.”

“You don’t have to do maintenance, at least.”

“From here it’s an easy drive to Mira Mesa.”

“All the good food’s there.”

“Yeah, true.”

The birds do their thing over the ‘Best Buy’ and the cottonwoods are grown up enough, also the sycamores. The chapparal is relegated to the valleys, the buckwheat repeating its uninterrupted seven-year bloom.

**

When I was younger, all the news coming from Tierrasanta involved kids finding live artillery shells while exploring canyons, exploding themselves—just horrible news—and now Tierrasanta is houses upon houses of development, an implosion of living spaces.

We drive around and there are exactly four strip malls: a pizzeria and a Hawaiian BBQ and a haircut store. It makes me weirdly nervous that there are so many houses and so few storefronts. What would it mean to be stranded in a crowd with so few facilities, and so few people you can greet at the counter by name? A guy at the last complex walks out of his garage with a white beard and a cigarette, and he waves amiably.

Jet-washing jets land across the way and I get the growing sense that I don’t want to live here, but I wave back to the white-beard guy. He seems nice.

**

As a kid, I used to sit on my neighbor’s roof and watch the jets carom over Tierrasanta during practice, the annual air show. At night there were sonic booms, unexplained, because we lived near the airfield and there was the constant and midnight rumbling of secret planes taking off. The B-1’s they wouldn’t tell us about yet. ‘Nighttime planes’, I remember calling them.

(This dream I had. I was in a fuselage, without wings. A metal tube flying low over the ocean, and the ocean below dark save for whitecaps. The whitecaps were in a messy diamond-pattern justfrom the wind’s interference. The ocean was certainly Atlantic, not Pacific. I could tell by nature of its mucky gray-brown color. Suddenly the water threatened the plane, rising, me in a seat trapped. I heard the water hit the undercarriage of the plane in a metallic slap before the pilot finally elevated the fuselage upward. Afterward, there was the sound of an ocean arguing against itself before a welcome subsiding. The plane then rose and rose and while still wingless).

**

At work, the snow is wet and coming out of the hose all wrong. Too much salt in the brine, else too many clouds on the horizon. The humidity throws everything off when making stuff frozen. The penguins don’t care and just revel in the newfound ice. The Adélies bury their heads in the snow and they’re characters: running, hopping, sliding. They wriggle around in the slush, upsetting the snow before it freezes proper to the concrete. Super-alive, they wave their heads back and forth in agreement with this all.

When I clock out, the snow is messied, and an Adélie barks.

I put my bags down and Jenn looks anxious in the kitchen. She wears an apron, which I never do, wooden spoon in hand. I kiss my kids in turn. Finn tromps up and down in place while exclaiming, “Dah-dee!” He always hugs me from the side; Cayde meanwhile hugs me square in the chest, nowadays too hard, and I have to remind him that I don’t like it when he pile-drives me in the sternum, not exactly.

“Gentle, gentle, Dude.”

I sense something is wrong, though the kitchen smells nice, like garlic or browned butter.

I cock my head.

“You okay, Babe?” and she says she just needs to tell me something, ushering me into the room.

(For the longest time, Jenn couldn’t furrow her brow; currently it’s that biggest tell that she’s lost an admirable amount of weight: that she can now perplex her forehead. It’s also a tell that we’ve grown older together, worries like strata finding places just north above the eyes).

The apron she’s wearing is ‘Hello Kitty’, which is cute. She puts her spoon down.

“Thom, Karina  died last night. In a car accident.”

Karina was the girl who opened the front door when we first looked at this house: a cherubic ten-year old with pretty brown eyes and a hint of belly showing, her having ridden up. “Hi!” she said. Her sister was sleeping in a carrier on the table, blanketed in crochet, and with her nose as big as the divot underneath her nose, that being how disproportionate infants are in their disproportion.

“Hi!”

As it would be for years, with Karina smashing her face into the window-screens of the back-rooms: “Hi, Cayde!” “Hi, Finn!” She loved those boys, and her smile was big, her voice bigger. She would hug them with her mantle of dark hair.

The dark eyeliner of her under-lid grew longer and more curlicued as she got older, Amy Winehouse-like, and last I saw of Karina, she borrowed Jenn’s curling iron and fixed her hair in a hurry in the stand-alone laundry-room, the door shut behind her. She said, “Thanks,” and handed me back the iron, still warm.  She ran, ducking down the driveway, secreted by the cover of parked cars, running into the street forever and far away. .

**

It’s on the news, the tail end of the car distant from the streetlight that separated the front of the car from the back, the chassis otherwise crushed upwards with seats against the ceiling. The news was stupid reporting that the kids were alive when they were checked into the hospital. No, they weren’t. God bless them, no they weren’t. They had no idea what happened.

How will our pulses end, how will they; I get scared they end with spines and teeth and things red-colored.

(I get frightened, really frightened for my kids, and that everything moves in near misses and that collisions are sometimes expected; that things are frozen, then dangerously thawed out; that there are extinctions upon extinctions, but also the not-extinctions, when days go maybe according to plan; when it’s sunny out, when the leaves are in  unfurl or could otherwise be crisped).

Cayden: “Daddy: can you make me some tomato soup?”

It’s a simple request.

“Sure, Bud.”

I harbor my bangs into a messy knot. I concentrate–and this is beyond important—I roast the tomatoes, San Marzanos, with Muscovado sugar and thyme. I caramelize the shallots to a purple-brown, I reduce the stock to half; I chiffonade the basil, make a roux. I add cream, white pepper—everything I can that’s a halfway relevant ingredient—while still pretending this is all basic. Carrots.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Cayde.”

(We sit in the nook, which is white and simple, and I’m in love with my kid—something also simple).

“This is the best soup in the world, Daddy. Can you teach me how to make it?”

“Of course, Cayde.”

I say this, knowing I exactly can’t, nor ever won’t. This soup, it’s not simple.

 

 

Writ on Water

We stop at the corner store while on a neighborhood jaunt, Cayde on his bicycle and Finn pushing against the harnesses of his stroller. I pause every Wednesday to pick up the weeklies, my house never having been without some form of newsprint lying around for the over-fifteen years Jenn and I have lived together.

“Are you in the Reader again, Daddy?” Cayde asks, helmet askew.
“Not this week, Dude.” It doesn’t stop Cayde from announcing to the cashier that ‘My Daddy is the best writer in the world and he’s been in the Reader EIGHT TIMES!’

I shush him. This particular cashier has also heard false claims that I’m the best chef in the world, so why’s she’s charging me for labne and cat food when she should rather be asking for my autograph, I don’t know. She takes my money and the only autograph requested is in the form of a signed receipt. She doesn’t ask to see my Pulitzer or Bocuse d’Or. Good thing: they’re not in my back pocket at the moment. Also, I’m neither of those best things.

We go across the street for a slice at DeLuca’s, and when waiting for a pie, I’m studying Cayde’s hair, which is cut blockier than usual, a wedge above his eyebrows. He’s fiddling with the remote that he charmed off the pizza chef, clicking through the channels on the in-house TV, finding an astronomy documentary while I finger a Peroni.

Cayden’s eight, and he knows I write about him. It was kind, the SD Reader picking up a few pieces the past few weeks. Cayde did the math and calculated how much money I had made; I quickly told him that was hugely unimportant (the amount being insubstantial, for one, and, two: something unnecessary to talk about, money never being the why).

I’m thinking about words. I’m staring at Cayde’s hairs and his brown brown eyes (distracted as they are, cathode-ray aflicker), which have always been his magentism, all this while Finn picks at the mushrooms on his plate declaring ‘Mmm-MMM’ and kicking in his chair, mouth tomato sauce-stained. My brain’s switched on a narrative mode, to translate every moment into words, so that I can figure it all out.

I used to be cynical of authors who, in interviews, would talk about their characters in third-person, who would say: “I didn’t know what X was going to do.” I’d think, “How could you not know? You created X.” But, end all, something happens when you start writing and when you press <publish> or press <period>, sometimes you’re left with some strange cartography you didn’t expect, your brain mapped out on the page for sudden and anthropological study, a hand-lettered thing your hand didn’t know it was doing. Wow–what did I mean there? The words land often, in a reverse Rorschach.

Cayde sometimes curls up with me when I write, with me and the laptop; he’s not an X, but my kid; not a creation but my creation. The words are a way to prolong all this, him and me, to stay the time, and to lend it for study, both now and future.

We say, “It goes by so fast,” and then take pictures to archive all the important and non-important things, the ephemera that makes up the day. Pictures, in the end, don’t do it for me. They’re static and they ultimately make me sad.

Instead: the bones. Write down the bones is common writerly advice. Trace a skeleton, and the flesh goes up fast, and living.

I tell Cayde that I’m not in The Reader this week, and he says, “Awww.” Sometimes I worry what he’ll think when he finally reads everything, when he’ll strip me of my current corner store Pulitzer and put everything up for a recount.

“It’s cool, Cayde. It was nice they published me. I don’t care.”

(I’m not saying, “I don’t care” out of any affected disinterest–that would be disingenuous; and disinterest is usually disingenuous, belonging only and truly to those people that can blithely paint over their masterpieces, else block out the world with aplomb, gripping their preferred pen or paintbrush with a firm and guidant middle-finger.

My “I don’t care” is a particular shrug of the shoulders; I had a three-week run in a good column, the satisfaction, even, of having the editor exclaim my welcome return. I’m proud of it all, sure; when I shush Cayden, though, it’s knowing the words are mine to curate now; it’s a shouting of love letters into the ether, to have the ether respond in turn, until the ether eventually dissipates; and knowing that Cayde will have those love letters, later and crystallized, for his own purpose when I’m satisfied having stopped shouting.

We’ll have all the quiet moments in the later meanwhile, the secure and private history of us, but also the moments I shouted and made my heart and head a public thing, refracted and cartographic, maps he can re-travel when I’m not there anymore. Let that be much later. He’ll understand me eventually, and I’m leaving me him the Hansel trail currently).

He eats his pizza and asks me for the third time if Jupiter’s moon is pronounced ‘Io’ or ‘lo’ because the words look the same depending on typography.

“I-o, Buddy. I-o.” We then discuss how the earth was created from two planets colliding, the moon being a displaced fragment. He goes on to say how there is an ocean on Callisto, this moon of Saturn, but that the ocean is just frozen beneath ice.

“We can maybe live there someday,” he says, polishing off a slice, and I choose to not disagree.

He goes on about water and oceans.

“Maybe, Dude.”

We pack up the to-go box and it was Keats who was buried beneath a headstone saying ‘Here I lie with my name writ on water,’ probably the most impressive epitaph ever carved, ironic too as it was stenciled in stone.

Cayde puts his helmet back on and wobbles up the street on his bike while I have Finn by the hand who pauses in the puddles; he says, “Ah-pu-ta-dah.” It’s a very specific set of utterances,something he aways says and there’s a meaning there which I haven’t yet figured out; I still haven’t figured out what I’m saying for Chrissake, so we’re in mutual befuddlement while Cayde carves the puddles, announcing over his shoulder: “I’ll see you at home, Daddy!” before pedaling up the street and around the corner.

Finn presses a thumb to his forehead, and resolutely says: “Daddy.” He stomps in a puddle, then laughs, before breaking away and running after Cayden, which I allow, watching.

Teen-aged, Pretty

I said I would stop by, though I didn’t think I would, but then I found myself parking the car anyways in front of her house.
There were dried flowers hanging upside-down from the ceiling and a mattress beneath the window curtained from the outside by yellowed bougainvillea sepals. There was a Bjork poster on the back of the door, an antique dresser, sundry silver things and candles, Bouguereau prints: all of it just anthemically pretty and teen-aged and nicely enclaved.
What do you want to listen to?” she asked, this, back then, being the earmark and most important question you could ask. From her CD tower (when that was something you had as bedroom architecture) I chose ‘This Mortal Coil.’
“Good choice,” she said, prim hostess of her bedroom, turning on her heel while administering the disc into a plastic bookcase stereo.
We were friends by nature of a few shared phone calls, the idea that we could ‘maybe hang out’ being that unspecified adolescent thing.
She showed me albums of photographs–all her friends with their wild-colored hair and vintage clothing–the people I wanted to be, but wasn’t.
I left sweaty prints, apparently, on the photograph sleeves because I have hot hands, but she took it to mean I was nervous, which maybe I was. It made her gentle.
I called a song ‘pretty’, and she said boys don’t usually call things ‘pretty’, but she said it smiling, like she had discovered a new species of flower, there hiding in the grass.
Later, she said: “You’re the saddest boy I know,” saying it slow like it was something of a marvel or a revelation, but she kept her smile while we sat across the room from each other, and when I left that day, I knew I’d have to see her again. I really liked her smile.
That was twenty years ago.
I arrived home this evening and the TV was on, but broadcasting to an empty room, all suspect of course. I voiced loudly, “Nobody home, I guess,” while putting down my bags, “Awesome!”
On cue, Cayde rolled out from beneath the couch, and Jenn burst through the bedroom door, arms splayed; Finn followed Jenn’s lead and pounded into the living room with outstretched starfish limbs–Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!–looking to be swept up.
“Surprise!” everyone shouted, and I had a lot of hugs, which is the greatest thing to come home to. Two decades, me and Jenn. My Jenn, my girl, my happiness.

Not New Very Often

I look out through the kitchen window of my parents’ house. The lesser Cuyamacas are newly visible: the massive feldspar and hornblende mountains do an ellipsis into what geologists designate acid igneous; there are free-standing boulders, which for the longest time were just monuments in people’s front yards, else namesakes for local rec: Big Rock Park, etc. They’re now placeholders on the sides of a freeway, which—for a decade and a half at least—existed simply as a dotted line in the Thomas Brothers’ Road Atlas, a freeway proposed but not constructed. In that meantime, you had to imagine the here to there.

It’s the holidays; neither my added stature nor the recently replaced window panels account for the different view. Through the East County skree and over the river with its companion roads, the sluices with their cottonwood and mulefat , mallow and sedge, it used to be the city planners’ prediction that the asphalt would be as it is now, an iron-supported thing, over the riverbed and turning a sigmoid curve past the CostCo and over the unlikely car lot. It’s not all visible from my parents’ window, but some of it is. When I was a kid, this was tomorrow, which is now today. Rattlesnake Mountain used to burn every year and currently it’s prime real estate.

Exactly four cypress were cut down in the Circuits’ backyard. The Circuits live across the street. They still live there, at least Mrs. Does, Mr. having died this past year. He was the Briton with the cable knit and roll-collared cardigan that always walked his dog and had this funny joke: everyone’s sycamore trees should be color-coded so you’re responsible for raking your own damn leaves on the weekend.   He had sinister juniper hedges, which hurt when you fell into them. They were prickly, and games of catch that relied on six-year old accuracy generally resulted in scratched and reddened hands.

Mr. Circuit preferred German Shepard mixes most, I recollect, but he also walked a league of other dogs, a Dalmatian I remember that was trained to sit down at the sight of a car coming up the cul-de-sac. I would pass the dog, seated sentinel-like, and with Mr. Circuit holding a slack leash, this speaking enormously of his kindness and gentle ability; we would exchange nods and I would wave a hand outside the window in acknowledgment.

(Maybe it was the house on the other side of the fence, on Big Rock Road, that had the cypress cut down, maybe it wasn’t –I dunno).

Our kitchen used to be an inexact shade of orange. There was an owl clock on the north wall, and brown and yellow terry curtains. I remember this as I look out the window.

Cayde taps me on the knee, requests: “Daddy: football?”

We have our game of playing catch in the street, me and Cayde, which I think Cayden enjoys in part because we have to pause our game every few minutes to let a random car pass, or that sometimes we have to compete against the streetlights. That’s North Park, though, where we live, more urban than my parents’ drive where a game of catch is less the hazard.

The cul-de-sac where I grew up was lined with sycamores, the traffic limited to the residents pulling into their respective driveways. It remains a private drive, pot-holed and gravelly. Most the trees are inexpertly arbored now, sprouting regardless. ‘Stubborn’ is perhaps the right word, like the squash patch that used to volunteer its late summer existence at the foot of the street where we would halt our bikes in back-wheel skidding fashion, leaving marks on the asphalt. Every year: the anemic squash with its leaves smelling of nightshade, and every year us breaking the fruit with random sticks before the fruit could even ripen–some hymenic trespass–always the splatter of seeds on gravel in front of the picket fence, with our bikes momentarily discarded and us banging sticks as boys, breaking up the fruit in violent oranges and greens, and splitting the gourds bang bang bang.

At the end of the street remains the picketed fence; I remember telephone lines, too, running parallel to the fence in caternary fashion. Birch poles with buzzing and insulated ropes, bevels and cartridge fuses, decorated in pitch, decorated with pigeons, too.

If the telephone lines don’t exist any longer—I can’t recall if they’ve gone underground and the creosote-coated timber cut down—I’m certain the pigeons don’t either.

When changing geography, the difference in bird-life is the surest sign of travel, meadow larks replacing cardinals, east-west, and so on. The difference in bird-life is also the surest sign of time passing: crows over the years supplant pigeons, and there is the push and pull of feathered things replacing each other on the telephone wires, climate in slo-change and niches reassigned.

Cayde lines up on the street and we’ve got a good rhythm going, back and forth, with Cayde admittedly throwing better spirals than me at this point. Behind him is an orange tree that used to be owned by the lady who regularly cut my hair in her garage. The tree and its accordant house have changed hands multiple times and, too often, the oranges lay buried in the grass speeding to rot. The tree is pretty, the house sagging slightly, and Cayde is jumping up and down in the driveway yelling for a ‘Hail Mary!’ because he wants the high-drama catch.

I back up aside the Circuits’ juniper hedge. The hedge, for a long time, was inaccessible what with their son’s rusted mess of a jalopy parked parallel and missing its wheels. I throw a long one, which Cayden catches. He bounds up, breathless, wanting to diagram a new play.

He bends at the waist, hands planted on his knees as if in a huddle. “On this one, I’ll run, Daddy. You be the quarterback and throw it and I’ll catch it while turning half-way around.”

He’s wearing a Star Wars raglan-sleeve but shorts, too—even though it’s cold—and has this idea that his imagined play will be spectacular, one for the books, much more than is actually possible. We’re just playing catch where there used to be cypress and sycamore trees. The gravelly street is much more gravelly now than when I was a kid, cut up with age and with the traffic of a thousand tires having turned into their respective driveways.

But I’m game and he sprints down the street while I do my part and become the quarterback, tapping the ball nervously as if linebackers were advancing. I search downfield while Cayde runs and I point to pretend wide receivers in the imaginary back-section, the end-zone populated only by an orange tree with no uprights to speak of, and I hurl the ball, Cayde laughing and picturing this all differently as he runs headlong down the pitch.

He turns, momentarily, hands up to catch the ball and, as he looks behind him, his ankle turns on the pebbled street; quickly, he is on the ground. The ball lands behind him. The football does its yawing thing before spinning to a slow stop, all this before Cayde can even manage a wail. I run up to meet him doffing my pretend QB jersey and re-shouldering the Daddy jacket instead.

Cayde cries.

Sometimes his tears trigger tiny fibrillations of panic; other times there is instead a spreading sense of calm, like surge water outwardly filling a floodplain, these waters drawn from the wellspring of fatherhood, at origin something aqueous and warm and subterranean, the simple and tributarial fact that I’ll be his dad every day for the rest of his life, and that every day for the rest of his he’ll be my son. When there are tears, Cayde crying, I’m comforted knowing that I’m needed. I may be less than utile someday, but when he cries now and currently, I’m there to take care of him, which is something of a blood oath and the unspoken agreement. It accounts for the particular calm I feel when he cries: there is the particular defibrillation, a cessation of panic, my pulse being normal by virtue of knowing what to do now, in the moment, purposefully forgetting that now will someday end.

“Daddy!” he wails, bleeding, and I pick both Cayde and the football up off the ground, my boy, my boy–I know exactly how to fix this.

Cayde has been hurt often, three broken arms in three successive years, and it used to be that his hurt unleashed a rage in me—that he could be hurt physically, and in radiographic luminance–with his arm bones splintered in two places, bruises fully formed. I would be angry, like the time he fell, unattended down the front steps, and I would and could be angry at the fact of him hurt, maybe angry at my own and still unattended hurt, just angry.

But, with time moved on, and purpled bruises having greened before smoothing into disappearance, it’s not anger anymore when Cayde is hurt.

I drop my voice a register.

“We’ll get you cleaned up, Cayde.”

“I know it hurts. I understand.”

“Walk with me—you’re ok.”

“I got you.”

All these things are as true as the orange tree, as true as the goalposts are not and I walk Cayde up to the front porch where the potted succulents are growing together, up to the front porch where I used to launch downward on my scooter years ago. Cayde’s’s still crying, and my dad is quick to respond at the door, fetching a washcloth while I lead Cayde to the bathroom.

The washcloth is pink, and I’m thinking how to attend to Cayde’s skinned knee, which is asphalt-blackened, and I close the bathroom door because I want this repair to be something between us, as if we were correcting our carefully diagrammed but failed football play.

I sit him down on the toilet seat, and wet the cloth.

Cayde is angry at his skinned knee, all the while blaming the street.

“This street is STUPID!” he yells, because the gravel slipped him up.

“I hate this street!” he sobs as I dab his knee with the pink terry, blackening the cloth but erasing his knee of injury.

“I fell a thousand times on this street, Friend,” I say, “I know it hurts.”

I look above his head at the medicine cabinet and it’s most likely stocked with peroxide, but I choose to spare Cayde the extra tears, wishing instead to instill in him the sudden calm I feel in granting him care.

He repeats his invective about Paseo Bello, this street where I lived a long time: “I hate this street!” he repeats. He’s mad about the gravel that tripped him up.

I explain as diversion: “We live on a different kinduv street, Dude. Remember how it got smoothed out, new asphalt? The steamrollers? We live on a public street, and we get a new street every now and then, right? This is a private street, Dude. Not the same,” I continue, dabbing away the black smudges. “I’ve fallen on this gravel a thousand times,” I repeat. “It hurts. I know.”

“It’s stupid.”

The football is currently inside.

“It’s not stupid, Cayde. It just doesn’t get new very often.”

Cayden wipes his eyes and I apply a bandage to stem the tears.

“Daddy, we just can’t…”

He’s still crying and I can’t stop him.

Mrs. Circuit across the street had geese in the backyard. They were a domestic white with orange bills, ornery. I was scared of them.

“We can’t play here,” Cayde insists, his knee bleeding.

“Sure we can…”

“No we CAN’T,” he insists, pointing to his sticky-blooded knee.

The freeway, a few miles distant, chugs along and—to stop the geese—you cinch their humeri together and hold them at arm’s length, pinning their wings in an upward splay, like arrested flight.

“You’re fine, Cayde,” and he agrees, finally, while I wrap my arms around him in the bathroom, kissing him on the head, with the Band-Aid certain to fall off.