I had to take Ambien to sleep the night before, and the morning crept up slowly. My bones were lead pipes, and my eyeballs were sore. Mason was already awake, quietly playing n the other room. Terra was also awake, but just lying there on her back with her eyes open, looking nowhere.
“What would you like to eat for breakfast?” I asked Mason.
“Nothing,” he answered.
"Here we go again," I grumbled.
I poured him some cereal and pleaded with him to come and eat it. I put Terra’s coffee on, and when I approached her she was sitting up, staring. She had been up late last night web surfing herself into distraction.
“You’re coffee is ready.”
She responded by standing, and walking slowly into the kitchen. I snuck outside for a cigarette (I kept the new habit hidden from Mason). I felt light-headed and dizzy has I sucked on the filter and heard the paper burn.
When I re-entered the kitchen, I had to steady myself against the table.
“Maybe we should drive separately today,” she called from the other room. “I need to get some things from the store.”
“Well, if we don’t need that much, we could all ride together…” I offered.
“No,” she said curtly. “I don’t want to have to hurry. You always make me feel like I have to hurry.”
I didn't respond, taking a seat on the couch. I knew we were going to have a fight before the day was finished. I turned on the television and looked at the floor and then the clock.
“Mason,” I sang, “it’s about time to go to the birthday party. Do you want to ride with me or Mama?”
“I thought we were all going togedder,” he sighed.
“No, Mama needs to go to the store after you get out of school. Do you want to ride in my car or Mama’s?”
“You. Are we going to race her?”
“Yes, definitely. She’s going to stop by the post office so she’ll never beat us!”
After a short stay at the birthday party of another 4-year old (which Mason spent running circles around the living room with a balloon) we followed Terra to the local co-op for lunch and neither of us spoke to each other. We both peppered Mason with questions which he answered with shrugs.
"Did you have fun?"
"What are you doing at school?"
"Who do you like to play with the most?"
"What did you have for lunch at school yesterday?"
What we really wanted to know was whether he was aware that we were totally fucked up. We also desperately wanted to know if he was okay.
After paying the check, Mason and I said good-bye to Terra, and I felt grateful that we were going to spend the day separately. The sadness had her today, and I wanted to get away from it.
Jo had his daughter, Victoria so we met up with them at his house. I could still remember the change in his face the day she was born. She was one year older than Mason, and partly responsible for his existence, because until I saw Jo with Victoria and how happy it made him to be a father, I never could imagine myself pulling it off. Terra had wanted children for a while, but I had always had a hard time seeing myself as a father. I didn’t ever see many dads that were much like me before Jo. Before Victoria, I’m not sure I had ever held a baby. She helped change the way I looked at them. They didn’t seem so terrifying. If Jo could do it, so could I! And so a year later, Mason was born, screaming and wiggling. Mason was born in that room. Mason was born in that room where Roxy died. There was no memory of one without the other.
Victoria was the most eloquent and articulate 5 year-old I’d ever met. She chatted away about her love for The Ramones as Mason crawled underneath the kitchen table and made fart noises. I felt a sudden warmth at the sight of these two beauties. One, so mild and articulate, the other, bursting at the seams with physical energy… the sage and the imp, perfectly juxtaposed. Mason crawled from under the table and sat down next to me. I smiled and put my arm around him.
We decided to caravan over to a nearby park. A large contraption with slides and ladders became the castle. Jo was The Dragon, Victoria The Princess and Mason the knight. The Dragon chased The Knight up the ladder and down the slide. The Princess screamed. I was The Feral Cat. I hunched and fretted.
“Don’t climb back up the slide Mason!” I yelled from the ground.
The Knight ignored me and continued his climb.
“Be careful,” I called, putting my left arm up over my head and biting my lip.
The Knight slid back down and climbed again up the tall twisting yellow slide.
“Mason!” I yelled, “I mean it! Don’t climb up that slide. You’re going to fall over backwards!”
The Knight, preoccupied with The Dragon and The Princess, couldn't even hear me.
“Okay, over here,” I said sternly, “sit down next to me for a minute.”
He could not die, not ever. I would not let him.
The Princess called to The Knight.
“I can’t come there now Victoria, I’m in trouble,” he responded, matter-of-factly, as he turned and walked and counted his paces my direction. I giggled, silently.
I pointed to the top of the slide and offered an explanation as to why I thought it was dangerous. Mason looked up at me, bored. “I have to go poop Dad.” I giggled again. The sunlight began to reach around the grey clouds and I looked at it as it hit my left hand. I felt its warmth inching up my arm. Mason smiled at me and I was suddenly happy.
After about 40 minutes, we decided to head to The Cinemat for their Saturday “Atomic Age Cinema” short film and old Science Fiction TV show feature. Br and U had been telling me about this for years, but for whatever reason, today was our first time. Inside their screening room, there were two young men dressed as a gorilla and a Robin-esque superhero, respectively. We bought some popcorn and found a seat. Br was there with Ella and Winter, and they sat together with Victoria and a couple of other young girls on the large orange vintage couch in the front row. Jo, Br, Mason and I sat behind them. Mason climbed onto my lap. He was captivated by our superhero host, who introduced the first show, Stingray. Stingray was a show from the early to mid sixties, featuring marionettes living in a futuristic under-water setting. Our heroes, Captain Troy Tempest, his navigator with the slow southern drawl, Phones, and Marina, a Brigette Bardot copy with sleepy, stoned eyes. Their bodies twitched and shook as they guided their submarine past a variety of pitfalls and diabolical schemes and the dialogue was wonderfully ridiculous. I was caught up in it, laughing. Mason sat up on my knee, wide-eyed.
Stingray was followed by episodes of Captain Marvel and other older and goofier television shows, and we never moved. I laughed so hard and so often that Mason eventually reached back with his left hand to cover my mouth. When the last episode of Captain Marvel was over, and they turned the lights on in the screening room, I looked at Mason. He continued to stare at the blank screen. “Did you like that?” I asked.
“Yeah that was awesome.”
“It was pretty awesome. We should do this again sometime.”
We said good-bye to our friends, and we exited, hand in hand. On the way to the car, we stomped in some puddles. Mason looked happy and tired.
“We have to go pick up Mama so we can go to Aunt Carole’s Birthday Party,” I told him.
“Can I play my game when I get home?”
“For a few minutes, sure.”
As I drove home, I adjusted the rearview mirror and watched him with a full heart. He shifted a little, and then smiling, he looked directly at me. My heart jumped up and saluted.
That evening, with little rest, we met my entire extended family at The Sushi Bar. Mason sat across from me, between my mom and Lu, the 2-year old daughter of my cousin Mike. Lucy is tiny and blond. Her hair was cut at an angle, the bangs hung down low over her chin. She had wild eyes and bounced in her seat.
“Mason! Mason! Mason!” she shrieked.
There were 20 of us sitting at tables placed end to end. Two toddlers cried loudly, their screams piercing every corner of the restaurant.
“Oh my god,” Ka said under her breath as she sat down next to me.
“You like that?” I asked, giggling.
“Yeah. I think I might barf,” she answered.
“Because! I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m not well.” Ka had been having anxiety attacks too.
The screaming continued. Kids were passed around the tables. Scream, scream, scream. Scream, scream, scream.
I glanced around at other patrons, feeling amused by their discomfort... feeling mischievous. It felt wonderful. I looked across the table into Jo’s eyes. He was nowhere to be found in there. His eyes looked peaceful. (I’ve always been jealous of his ability to disappear like that.) Still, I managed to get his attention and I was laughing.
Going out to eat sushi was not a common activity for many of us. We were from southern Indiana, after all. At one point, Sheila, Jo’s older sister was standing up at the end of the table.
“What is THIS?” She held up a spicy tuna roll. “Is it all like THIS?! I’m not eating THIS!”
I watched the expressions of the other patrons, their faces turning red with disgust. I was mindful of the sneering waitress standing on the other side of the fish aquarium. A goldfish swam across her frown. I took this all in.
My older sister, Carey, was also there at the end of our table. Her gaze was tense underneath her blond hair. (She is autistic, and social situations cause her a great deal of discomfort, even the reasonable kind.) She kept repeating “can I have some ice cream?” loudly.
“No! We’re not getting ice cream Carey…” my mom anticipated a meltdown and began to look uncomfortable.
“Can I have some ice cream?” Carey asked the waitress.
“Kori, we’re not getting ice cream,” said my mother, waving her off.
The toddlers scream, scream, scream. Mason placed his hands over his ears.
“I’m with you,” Kandi said, reaching over to tug on his sleeve.
I watched this all, feeling so oddly pleased.
When we all finally received our checks, I realized that I had been significantly overcharged. I didn't even mind, happy to pay extra for this day. I signed the receipt and sighed heavily.
“Let’s go get some ice cream,” I said to Terra and Mason. Terra looked at me surprised, an eyebrow raised. I smiled widely. She smiled back. We walked across the sidewalk, into the rain soaked parking lot.