I pulled myself out of bed at 4:45. The kids had stayed up until 10:00 the night before, and Elise and I didn’t go to bed until 11:00, after having spent the evening with old friends from Brazil at a cook-out at Oakwood.
It was not easy and the gravity of my warm bed was strong, but I knew how disappointed I would be if I didn’t get a chance to run later in the morning, so I pushed against the mattress and placed the soles of my bare feet on the hardwood. I creaked across the house, having learned over the past few months which floorboards creak louder than the others. Our house creaks loudly, and I guide myself down the hall, holding on to the wall in false hope of keeping weight off my feet. I descend to the basement where I had set out my running shoes and watch the night before. I move slowly. It’s hard to get motivated. I have a few sips of iced coffee I stole from the fridge.
I open the back door; it crack open like splintering wood, and I don’t know how the entire house doesn’t bolt awake or maybe it does before settling back to sleep. It’s warm. Summer has arrived. Highs were in the nineties all weekend. I set off, slowly, with an aim to go nine. After two miles, I falter, the humidity stifling, but decide to soldier on, again the prospect of facing my own disappointment pushing me. I make it to the turn-around, stopping for water on the way out and one the way back, and as the sun comes up, the humidity comes down, and I find a groove. I finish the last two miles just over eights. I’m happy, though I have a few new blisters and I know I will be tired later.
I sneak back into the house. Everyone is still sleeping. I change and stretch out on the couch, sweaty. Elise would be mad at me if she knew I were getting sweat on her new pillows. Sam wakes first, but soon all five of us are on the couch—me, struggling to keep my eyes open— after I feed them leftover cinnamon rolls. We have friends from Chennai and their kids coming over to grill hamburgers at four, so we decide we need to head to the store.
We drive through Seven Corners on our way to Bailey’s Crossroads. Elise needs to stop at Home Depot to buy more metal chain links in order to convert our newly-purchased and installed swing from a trapeze to the swing (the seat currently sits about four feet in the air). She will get the chain, but in what will go down as her most frustrating customer service experience of the week—if not month—the clerk will forget to put the carabiners she bought in the bag with the chain. The kids watch their new favorite show, Thunderbirds are Go!, on the iPad in a rare capitulation.
We stop at Panera before going into Trader Joe’s. Everyone gets plain bagels. Clementine gets hers with cream cheese and she soon has a goopy white smile from cheek to cheek that makes her look a little like the Joker. Elise and I shop with tiny coffee in our hands. Sam helps run for groceries. We buy a $50 bottle of champagne to break open tonight for Elise’s birthday. She hasn’t asked for much. (She hasn’t asked for anything, really.) But she does want cupcakes and champagne for her birthday.
Waiting in line to check-out, Clementine catches the eye of a baby in the cart behind us. Soon, Sam,
Peter, and Clementine are giving the baby high-fives and letting her pinch their noses.
We head home and there is mention of taking the kids to the comic book store after we swing by the house and put the groceries away. I start getting everyone motivated to head out the door when I am vetoed by Elise, “I think everyone would be better off taking naps than going to the comic book store."
Clementine and Pete are exhausted from the late night and immediately crawl into bed and under the covers. Sam starts jumping up and down and squealing, “It’s not fair!” as I threaten him within an inch of his life to get into bed and quiet down, promising him we can go to the comic book store some other day, maybe one day after I get home from work, knowing full well it will be too late by the time I get home this week to go. I slide into bed with Peter, the bottom bunk. Sam is in the top bunk above us, thrashing about in spastic protest. I yell at him and he stops crying long enough to pull out a book and start reading. Pete wraps his arm across my chest and falls soundly asleep. I hear
Sam turning the pages in the bunk above. I think about telling him to put the book away and lie down, but decide not to. I struggle to keep from drifting off. I badly want to sleep, but took a nap yesterday afternoon and spent the rest of the day in a haze. I hate that feeling and decide I’d rather be exhausted. Plus, I still need to run to Giant for baked beans and angel food cake. (Elise is making strawberry shortcake for dessert.)
I carefully extract myself from Peter’s embrace and sneak down the hall. I take a peek at my phone, at Facebook and the latest headlines. I become numb.
Sam follows me. I don’t make him go back to his bed. I run my fingers through his hair; it’s getting long, but he doesn’t want to cut it.
I stick my head in Elise’s office where she has been quietly working for an hour or so. She is staring blankly at the computer screen, not really reading or editing pictures. Her gaze is far-off.
“Is there anything else we need at the store?” I ask.
The corners of her mouth turn down. I hug her. “I feel sad,” she tells me. “You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t.”
Sam and I step out into the sun. It’s hot, but the wind has started blowing. It hasn’t cooled anything down yet; it’s more like a blast furnace. We walk to the grocery store, Sam squinting against the sun.
I know I should talk to him, say something, ask him about his day or about school or a book that he is reading. I know I should take advantage of this rare and precious one-on-one moment, father and son, but I can’t think of anything to say. I have trouble swallowing around a lump in my throat. I fight back tears.
“How is your new book?” I finally manage.
He likes it. It’s about animal wizards, a book for a kid who is not quite ready for Harry Potter. Sam may never be, and that’s okay. I now wish that remains the case.
We take our time at the grocery, mostly because I have no idea where anything is. I start toward one end of the store looking for the bakery until Sam steers me toward the opposite end.
I stop at Starbucks for iced coffees, one for me and one with coconut milk for Elise. It helps somewhat, but my hamstrings and legs are in smoldering pain. I can’t sit for long periods of time because of my hamstrings and glutes and I can’t stand because my legs are so damn tired.
Home, I cut watermelon while Elise puts out the burger fixings. She stops me in front of the refrigerator and hugs me, telling me she loves me.
Our friends arrive. Perhaps the distraction is welcome. Perhaps not. I can’t decide or can’t tell or am too tried to care. I drink three beers very fast and unapologetically, then turn my attention to grilling, finding distraction in the manual task, the raw ritual of preparing food.
Later that evening, she takes baths while I clean the kitchen. I am patient as I help the kids into their pajamas, not wanting to escape them, not wanting to be anywhere else, not wanting them to ever think that I don’t appreciate them as people or that I ever do not value their company. I have become more conscientious about listening to them when they talk or, at least, I try to. Sam falls asleep immediately, not having napped. Peter needs water and complains that he is hungry and wants carrots, though I tell him I’ll get him some in the morning. I am in bed, reading, too tired now to move. Eventually, Clementine’s is the only voice left, a tiny echo. I don’t know who falls asleep first, me or her.