He’s sitting there next to me with the book open. The closeness of his face to its cardboard pages a gauge of his intensity. It must be a good one, he’s already holding it inches away as he pretends to read it to me in his bed. He’s four. He’s adorable. He’s totally absorbed. Me?
I’m unmoved. Barely there.
He turns a page and concentrates on brightly-colored trains that I can see are already chugging towards trouble. My vision blurs though and, as he begins his version of this part, his voice softens and fades as my thoughts wander in and throw a blanket of weary vagueness over my attention.
I’m staring far away. At nothing.
WAKE UP! ENJOY THIS!
I know I’m too tired, too hungry, too preoccupied, too puréed from the sharp edges of the blender called Life. A detached anger burns beside me rather than inside me, at myself, that I’m not even able to really feel the anger I want to feel for slipping away. I know that this isn’t right. I want to scream at myself to make myself actually mad at myself.
I turn to thinking about how fast he’s growing up, like I’m trying to coach myself, but even thinking about this takes me further away from what I’m experiencing and I hardly notice that he’s turning another page. My brows go to war above my unfocused eyes as I realize that now I can’t really hear his voice at all anymore even though a part of me knows he’s still busily stitching together half-remembered parts of the story into a patchwork quilt of sentences.
PAY ATTENTION! DRINK THIS UP, YOU FUCKING FOOL!!!
He looks up to make sure I’m listening and enjoying it. I force a smile bigger than is honest and, satisfied, he turns his big eyes back, peering into the inch-away pages, ritualistically tracing a finger over the lines of words he’s not really reading.
My phone vibrates and bloops in my pocket, and like a guilt-ridden werewolf chaining himself to a tree before a full moon, I jam my hand under my thigh to keep myself from checking.
DON’T YOU EVEN DARE, YOU IDIOT!
In a sort of next-level last ditch effort, I begin to imagine that tomorrow I won’t see him. Never seeing him again. I’m forcing myself to get the idea that this is our last moment together; that it could be. I’m desperately trying to throw myself a life preserver. Hoping that it hits me in my stupid face.
I know all of this will all be gone in before-you-know-it seconds and that I’m going to leave myself with blurred shadows of memories, and him with my plastic smiles he’ll one day know were lies. Me, staring at nothing, while it all happened.
Wishing I could slap my face hard, I take a deep breath and clench my jaw.
LISTEN. BE THERE.
His voice becomes crisp to me again. The trains figured out how not to wreck themselves all over the place and the day was saved. Yay!
His eyes twinkle over his toothy smile and I smile back a secret promise to him that I’ll be better. More there.
Whatever it takes.
I will give my son presence.
P.S. in my defense, the book was kinda slow and that bed of his is really almost too comfy.
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These show you how bad a parent I really am.