(I did not write anything about August 2nd through August 7th, because those days are gone. I know Terra's dad bought us a new set of tires, Terra's mom kept us in food, my folks helped with Mason and that's about it. I can almost remember nothing. Roxy died, and the next thing I knew it was a week later).
It had been a week since Roxy died, and somehow I ended up back at my office. Maybe to be alone. The phone whirs, and I can only sit at my desk for a couple of hours, sifting through emails and communicating what happened to us in staccato- worded emails that always ended in "Ugh, Kenny." I shuffled my feet to 4 p.m. and left.
I picked up Mason up from pre-school (he MUST stay in his routine!!) with the intention of taking him to get ice cream before his tae kwon do class, just to see if he would convey some of his thoughts to me. I so desperately needed to feel like I could help him. And part of me needed him to NEED help. Part of me desperately wanted him to share our grief.
We walked into Jiffy Treat and I ordered a small caramel sundae with whip cream and nuts. Mason whispered his order into my ear: “the superman cone." (He is scared shitless of cashiers, waiters, and anyone in customer service, really.) We waited for our ice cream and found a table. Mason wanted to sit beside me, and I was glad. We were both nervous and quiet. Or maybe I was nervous and HE was quiet. Sometimes it is alarming looking into his eyes. They are these watery blue marbles with a brown center, right around the pupil, and they can be so probing...
“Are you doing okay?” I asked.
“Yeah I’m doing okay,” he answered quickly, as if he knew the questions were coming.
“Can I try your Superman cone?” (I DON'T KNOW, CAN YOU?)
He hesitated… “Yeah, but can I try your sundae?”
“Let me think about it. Hey, are you worried about everything that’s going on?”
Before he could answer, we were interrupted by an old man who has walked up to our table. Thick white hair, a gaping mouth and a large red nose. He was short and thick, and put his face really close to Mason and said “Is your name Dorothy?”
I wasn't sure if this was comedy or senility, but his timing was impeccable and I gazed at him, empty. Mason did not respond but stared into the old man’s eyes, calculating something. The old man looked over at a little girl a few tables away and said “is your name George?”
I realized, finally, that he was doing a bit. I knew we had to get to the punch line as quickly as possible, but I also knew that this guy had all night!
“Can you tell him what your name is?” I asked Mason.
“Mason,” he said, staring down at the table.
“No, you’re Dorothy and that’s George!” the old man said.
The little girl finally bailed us out. She was a talker: “No my name’s not George!!”
“Yeah, you’re George and this is Dorothy,” the old man said.
The parents of the little girl laughed nervously as the old man shuffled over to their table. I wanted to hug that little girl.
“Mason…” I began.
“Is Mom gonna die?” he blurted, casually.
I was knocked off guard and stammered for a moment. “No, no, she’s not going to die. She just had to have an operation. They had to, um, they had to take Roxy out of her belly, but Mama is going to be just, um, just fine. She’s just healing. You know, um, how when you, uh, cut your knee and it hurts for a while and you don’t want, um, anyone to touch it… but then it gets better and stops hurting? That’s, um, like Mama’s belly. It will just take her a couple of weeks to heel.”
“You mean Roxy is not in Mama’s belly?”
“No honey. Remember, Roxy, um… she… like our dog Petey this summer…”
“oh yeah, she died,” he said.
“I want you to know though, that Mama is going to be just fine. She just needs to heel. Do you understand that? I love you so much and you can ask me any question that you want to, any time.”
“Can I play my game when I get home?”
“sure, yeah. Sure. Yeah, after Tae Kwon Do, sure.”
The Bloomington chapter of the American Tae Kwon Do Association, from what I could tell, was run by a husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Bee. Mr. and Mrs. Bee looked quite similar: same brown hair, same pudgy build, same olive complexion… Mr. Bee was always shouting in some teenage student’s face in the larger, mat-laden room, while Mrs. Bee took care of the “tiny tigers” in the smaller room. Mason was a tiny tiger. The two younger children of Mrs. Bee would occasionally walk in and out of a door leading into a hidden lair in the back, crying, bleeding, pants off, eating pizza, etc. Mrs. Bee generally seemed kind and maybe a little sad. Her command of grammar was questionable. She was always shouting “you guys are really doing good!” which always made me tense up. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bee were overweight, and the combination of illiteracy and obesity struck a dissonant chord with the sacred oaths they recited every day before class which included the lines “knowledge of the mind, strength in the body.”
The ATA program was overly expensive for what it was at $100 a month, and they chiseled you out of graduation fees as well every couple of months. Still, Mrs. Bee seemed like a pretty nice lady, and the kids and the parents we shared the class with were, mostly anyway, people we had come to really like.
On the previous Wednesday, August 1st, also known as the worst day of my life, my parents took Mason to his “graduation” in order to try to maintain some sense of “normalcy” for him. (He MUST stay in his routine!!) My mother took Mrs. Bee aside, and told her what had happened, and wanted her to let the other parents know. Mrs. Bee hugged my mother and then stood up in front of a room full of parents and children (mine included) and said these words:
“I just wanted to let everyone know that the Childers’ baby, unfortunately, died. You might want to remind your children not to ask them questions…”
Mason and I walked into the ATA building, which was located in a little strip-mall on the west side of town. It sat across the street from the Hideaway Lounge, where old barflies would occasionally fistfight in the parking lot. We were 20 minutes early, as I wanted a chance to speak with Mrs. Bee before class about her... "announcement." I did not see her, so we entered the smaller room and sat in one of the aluminum-framed chairs with black cushions. A door opened, and the 5-year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bee walked out of a back room looking happy. I was surprised, as her expression was usually one of trepidation. She was dancing, and singing a song when she noticed Mason and I: “I’m watching Agent Cody Banks,” she said proudly.
“Hey, I haven’t seen that,” Mason responded.
Suddenly, Mr. Bee, not knowing we are there, bellowed at her to “COME. HERE. RIGHT. NOW!!!!!” We sat, helpless, listening to the daughter convulse with sobs as he growled, inches from her face. Something about not answering the phone properly. She could not catch her breath. I felt desperate to do something for her, or at least my own child sitting next to me, but I was paralyzed. This went on for a couple of minutes, until the daughter returned through the same door she had entered, gasping hysterically.
Mason framed the scene succinctly, “she’s crying because of her dad.”
We continued to sit in our chairs, frozen and quiet, for another 5 minutes. I was completely freaked out (and near to quietly grabbing Mason’s hand and walking out) when Mrs. Bee walked in and sat down next to me. She pushed her brown hair out of her eyes. “Hi sir, it’s good to see you again. Um, I wanted to talk to you about something. As it turns out, Mr. Bee says that Mason will be needing all of the sparring gear.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
She ran down a list of equipment and the total amount: $150.
“Can I see a catalog or something?”
She squirmed… “well, actually, all of this has to be purchased through the ATA, um, organization. It’s required.” She showed her bottom teeth in an attempt to soften the delivery. “But I tell you what,” she continued. “Last week while you were having your “situation” (and she actually did the quotation marks with her fingers) we were offering a 25% discount. I can probably still get you that discount...”
I cut her off. “We’ll think about it.” I glared at her, ready to bite and then turned away. She stomped out awkwardly, like a child.
I sat on my hands for 30 minutes while Mason had his class and resisted the urge to scream my fucking head off and drag him out. I promised myself I would never walk back through that door again.