Having de-planed from Dad 2.0, and having found my usual spot on the couch, I’m writing on vapors and am looking forward to bed. Jenn has retired post-Oscars and, as I’m pressing my last ‘send’ and about to retire too, Cayde appears in the living room. We talk, in that laconic man-to-man way. He’s confused that he went to bed just an hour ago and that–already–the Tooth Fairy has delivered him money. “Look–I got two dollars!” I can’t explain the Tooth Fairy’s expedience; I’m very much tired. Luckily Cayde says, “Hold on, Daddy.” He re-appears with a blanket. “This is for us.” And we crash it on the couch. I still have my phone open. “Hold a sec,” I say. I manage to find the Andrew Bird song we played on the way home from the hospital. The wireless headphones don’t work, and Cayde eventually shrugs them off. So we play the song all tinny on an uncooperative iPhone and that’s how we go to sleep.
I had almost managed to re-find a seat after my five minutes at the conference podium before being handed a business card. This happened at the back of the auditorium—naturally—because I’ve always gravitated towards the rear seats of the classroom, else comfortable corners where’s it’s easy to hide. I figure it’s a mammalian tendency, and of the beta variety: hug a wall, protect your spine (or lack thereof).
The lady who proffers the card says her name is M—(?). There’s an’M’ certainly, but I don’t hear her name exactly because the room is now applauding the keynote speaker (Michael Kimmel—and, yes, he was great). M—(?) says she would like to speak to me and I find it curious she has a tear in her eye when we’re still halfway through coffee; tears generally come later and when en vino veritas is the presiding sentiment. While still in a haze, I thank her and stammer a ‘Sure’ though networking remains something I’m not good at and something I most likely won’t improve on much over the weekend. (I’m the guy who leaves sweaty palm-prints at the bank-clerk counter, else replies a clumsy ‘how are you?’ when asked the same question).
A day later, I finger the card while doing some typing in the corner of the foyer. M—(?) is from the CDC. (Y’know: the place that blew up in Season One of ‘The Walking Dead’). The Center of Disease Control. And, for emphasis, ‘.gov.’ I find M—(?) today, and she was walking away from a leather-chaired sit-down; I overhear her saying she was right hitting a wall. I felt apologetic tapping her on the shoulder, but I was also the one that could direct her to coffee, so all was even. You see: I’m industrious in my shyness—I had the hotel completely staked out. Coffee in a few strategic locations, sub-par IPA downstairs.
(I know the barback’s name. At three’o clock the light at Table 10 by the window is fantastic and perfect for writing).
We collect coffee. We also graze some chocolate-covered things as bonus. Suddenly there’s a DC PR attache, too, also with a card. I’m certainly not used to this; I was asked for a reciprocal card a few times this weekend and wished to reply that I hadn’t exactly figured out the cut n’ paste feature on my phone just yet. Which—all things considered—means business cards may not exactly be in my immediate future.
(But ask me about Patrick Bateman and I’ll tell you that his card has a ‘bone’ motif; it’s also lettered in ‘silian rail.’).
I don’t know exactly how to hold my coffee cup. M tells me she’s wanted to meet me even before the conference began. And we’re in a side-room where there is something more than hotel-light and where we’re offered charging-stations and cushioned respite. There is talk of messaging, policy-initiatives, media-dissemination. Most importantly—advocacy.
“I love your writing. You made me cry.” M is gracious and exudes something earnest.
‘You made me cry’, mind you, is flattery for any writer. Or maybe relief, actually.
Because I guarantee you every writer cries at least once when putting down some serious bones. That the tears should be of worth and collectively pooled means someone’s crying with you, and when the drying of tears becomes a necessarily shared activity, there is empathy. Endall, it usually amounts to change.
That’s exactly when you want a business card pressed your way. When you’re both drying your cheeks. It means it’s not exactly business; the cards take softer corners.
I talk a lot while the sun spills in and I figure out that the best thing to do is to set my coffee cup down on the table in front of me. I talk, and: too much? I dunno. We break, and I’m excited as can be; I probably end the conversation abruptly because my world generally lacks pressed palms, and I really want to hear my new buddy Justin read in the conference hall. I’m not good at this. I really liked M, though, and when we separate I pour another cardboard demitasse from the communal carafe. Then I hide again. I tap some more keys. Being fond of ellipses, I type a few of those. (As something promising, though, and not something necessarily unfinished).
I take my fortieth look at the business card afterward. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
I think of my sons who I’m missing, currently.
In my satchel is one of those knit hospital caps—Findlay’s. The post-delivery nurse scribbled ‘FINN’ on it when my son was born with a permanent marker; she talked around the fact of his diagnosis, and with unnecessary and frenetic alarm. Considering everything, I would prefer to have the last word, and a word not scribbled messily with a Sharpie.
I pocket the business card and it fits my thigh perfectly.
Because I’ve only recently learned my manners, I say ‘Hello–good to see you, Mae,” to the parking lot attendant at Rady’s. (It’s only been the past few years that I’ve started introducing myself to people I see on the regular).
“Good to see you too, Sweetheart.” She smiles, hands me my parking pass, and leans through the driver’s side window and smiles to Finn. “Hi, Baby. Hi!”
Finn does a tired wave, and blows a kiss. He’s learned his manners, and well before me.
We’re both a little tired. Par for the course. At Speech,Miss Stephanie asks me about Finn’s progress, and I don’t have a lot to say, though Finn’s doing rather well.
She tells me to work on putting signs together. I joke that “Crackers, please” is a fair constant.
Finn toddles around and plays with all the toys, the rubber frogs and turtles scattered about the gym mats. He hugs his friend Logan, and then me. He stops to suck his thumb.
We have singing time, always followed by snack-time: Goldfish crackers and raisins and cereal without fail. All the kids have troubles staying in their chairs and all of us parents are laughing. Miss Stephanie reminds me about Finn’s homework, and about strategizing to combine signs. She’s holding open a ‘Wheels on the Bus’ book in the meantime.
“Finn!” she says. “Where’s the doggy? Where’s the doggy in the picture?”
Finn signs: “Tired.” (Me, too). Then he waves ‘Bye’, rubs his hands together signaling ‘fish’. He taps his elbow: ‘Cracker.’
And then puts a thumb back into his mouth. Music Time is over; now Goldfishes, please.
Gonna call that a sentence.
Mae says ‘good-bye’ on the way out and we don’t pay.
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’m amusing 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 were 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: who cares? 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.