The ‘Mongoloid’ card gets played despite ground rules and—across the table—Jenn and I meet glances. Finn’s asleep in Jenn’s lap, thumb resolutely in mouth.
In slumber, Finn’s almond eyes close along sinuous lines; the seams of his lids resemble ‘tildes’, those accent marks that give flourish to Latin ‘n’s: tildes make ‘en-ye’s’ out of ‘n’s. Finn’s eyes are different, as is he, and: do we call this exotic?
When the ‘Mongoloid’ card is played—we are playing ‘Cards Against Humanity’, something I’m suddenly regretting—I feel a particular blunting. The table is still friendly, and this is Christmas Eve, but I turn to my friend John-Paul who’s sitting next to me and say: ‘I think I’m done.’ The ‘Mongoloid’ mention has its certain hurt.
John and I are sharing a barrel-aged stout, something fourteen points, so me saying ‘done’ is appropriately camouflaged by a near-finished pint. I could be done by nature of what I’m imbibing, but that’s not why I quietly say ‘uncle.’(Since we’re talking numbers and points, Finn has 47 chromosomes, not the usual 46. The 21st chromosome was doubled somewhere in the early and meiotic phase; it turned Finn’s eyes almond and troubled his heart so that it needed surgering three months following his introduction into the world).
Another hand is dealt, and with my son sleeping—a slur having just been played and re-shuffled with Finn deep in Nod—I tell John-Paul that ‘I’m just gonna amuse myself, here.’ I’m uncomfortable. Finn sleeps. He has an arced palate and a lazy tongue by nature of his diagnosis—something biological. Lazier tongues, without diagnosis, have asked me: “Is he retarded?” A normal and relatively shallow palate should better lock a tongue into place, but it’s not always the case. People say things, coin questionable terms. And: ‘Mongoloid’ is a word that’s shocking to see still in circulation.
Wait—why am I playing this game?
The game asks that I play two associative cards. I lay down: ‘Heaven.’ ‘Object Permanence.’
I amuse myself. The point of this game is to play despicable cards when given a prompt—to be as devilishly clever as possible. I start playing cards to not win. ‘Heaven, object permanence.’ On a pizza sauce-stained tablecloth, and where the ‘Mongoloid’ card receives a laugh, my combo fails to even get a chuckle. But I’m happier for it.
Then, it’s Christmas morning. The sky is impossibly blue, weather having lifted. The retreating cirrus leaves something matte, and—as if cards played the night prior are something predicative—there’s a feeling of permanence. Like this sky could last forever, and unchanged.
We’re at a park near Lindbergh Field, in between houses and in between holiday visits. It could always be this blue, and, to announce the fact, the planes take off overhead, their perfect paint jobs illumined by the mid-morning sun. Weather, velocity and altitude surely flake the paint on the regular—inevitable atmospherics reducing veneer to scales—but today the jetliners gleam, flawless. Jenn pushes Finn on the swing and he’s laughing; Cayden—my oldest—clack-clacks the sidewalks that loop the greenbelt on his skateboard, and I soak up this Christmas sun on a concrete bench.
There are other dads—that guy with the cargo shorts and grey beard, kid astride his shoulders; the other guy with a palsied face one-handedly flying a kite with his son. There’s a canopied picnic to the left of me, and the table is neatly kerchiefed in plaid; a tow-headed girl hides beneath her dad’s jacket arm near the cooler.
Cayde inexpertly stops in front of me. He received kneepads from Santa and is now invulnerable, and don’t we all wish for that. “Soccer, Daddy?” Cayde suggests. I’m in a loose-knit scarf, suede penny-loafers, and a cardigan but, “Sure,” if only to add to this panorama. Different dads, different children.
Cayden declares goal-markers—“From here to here, Daddy”—but we wind up not keeping score. There are no points, and no point sometimes to numbers. Before, I would introduce the fact of Findlay’s diagnosis as ‘Trisomy-21.’ The dash and mathematic embellishment meant I didn’t have to say ‘Downs’, nor—certainly—‘Mongoloid.’ But now: 21, 47. There are numbers on the underside of the airliners that are currently taking off, and they mean as little to me.
Numbers suggest perpetuity. Also a constant countdown to a something, nothing: a dwindling arithmetic.
Suede-footed, I bend a kick Cayden’s direction and, as if there’s a cosmic time signature at play, the ball caroms mid-air while Finn laughs in the background kicking his legs in an upwards swing. An orange-bellied plane takes off while the soccer ball pauses, and there’s both a temporary and permanent suspension.