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.
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.”
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.