On Friday, December 14th, I got up at 5:45 a.m. like I usually do when my daughter is with me for the week. I enjoyed my usual morning ritual: one cup of coffee while I read my book in bed for about twenty minutes, before going in to wake Riley up for school. Just a little bit of quiet in the early gray of the morning does a lot for me, before checking email, before logging in to the world. It gives me a nice sense of calm before I pull the ripcord on the rest of the day.
At 6:15, I went into Riley’s room and nudged her awake. Turned on her light. Tapped her butt with my foot, which made her grunt at me. Wake up, Cave Girl. She grumbled something. Before I went to rustle up some breakfast, I made her prove she was awake with our two usual tests:
“Show me a stretch.”
She slowly uncurled her arms and legs.
“And let me see eyeballs.”
Her eyelids cracked open. Grumble grumble.
“Excellent. Now get up.” She growled a little, and crawled out of bed.
I got her lunch together while she ate breakfast, and of course had to crack the metaphorical whip to make sure she got up, got dressed, brushed teeth, brushed hair, transforming herself from a feral wolf cub into a human child.
Just like always.
In the car, we had our usual 2-minute Discussion on the way to school. Our topics are always different, and typically involve challenging decisions: Would you rather fly or be invisible? Who is stronger, Superman or the Hulk? Who would win in a cage fight, Godzilla or an army of Daleks? Today’s topic: Time Travel. If you could travel to any time, Riley asked me, where would you go? She voted for the far future: hover cars, nutrino-tablets, telepathic brain implants. I said I’d like to go to the past, but I couldn’t decide when.
At 7:25, I pulled up outside Riley’s school. She leaned forward to pat my bald head, I told her to remember not to rush during her math test, and she hopped out. I watched her run off, her gigantic backpack bouncing off her tailbone as she hustled into school. She’s always paranoid about being late, even though it’s never happened.
Absolutely typical morning.
A couple hours later I was in my dentist’s office, lying back in the reclining chair as a hygienist mercilessly cleaned my teeth. Above me was a TV screen imbedded in the ceiling. CNN was on, and as I watched over the hygienist’s shoulder, I learned that someone with a gun had walked into an elementary school on the other side of the country and killed many people. The crawl along the bottom of the screen said 20 children had died.
The TV was muted. The words just kept sliding across: 20 children killed. 20 children killed. 20 children killed. I watched, held captive in the dentist’s chair. Relentless screeching in my head.
Afterwards, I went about the rest of my day, crossing items off my to-do list. I went to the mall to buy a few stocking stuffers for my daughter, who was at that moment in math class, taking her test. I looked at my watch. I dropped off some dry cleaning. I looked at my watch again. Science class. I went home, made a sandwich, and graded more student essays. I swept the front walk. Social studies. P.E. English. French. I kept checking to see if it was time to pick Riley up from school yet, but it kept on not being 2:30. My stomach started to hurt.
When it finally was time, I drove to her school and met her as she ambled out the front gates. I did not wrap her up in a gigantic, lung-bursting hug. There were other kids around, and such displays of affection are Not Cool. So I simply waved. How was the math test? I asked as we walked back to the car. She shrugged. It was gross, she said. We drove home, singing with Katy Perry on the radio.
The day continued to unspool just like it always does. There’s no homework on Fridays, so we hung out. We sprawled on the floor and played Clue, even though it doesn’t really work with two people. Then some Wii. Later, we met some friends for an early dinner at a neighborhood restaurant, then back home to put on comfy flannels, and watch a little TV. iCarly. Phineas and Ferb. The whole time, I kept reaching over every so often and patting her back, so lightly she didn’t even notice.
Bedtime. I climbed into bed with her and we read together for a while from a tattered Calvin and Hobbes collection I’ve had on the shelf for years. Her preference is for me to act out Calvin with my Little Kid Voice, so she can wax philosophical as Hobbes.
A typical end to the most normal day ever.
After a few pages, I put the book down and we lay there for a little while in the dim illumination of her globe, which has a light inside and gives her room a soft, undersea-like blue glow.
A few minutes later, I got up, kissed her forehead, and we said what we always say.
“I love you, Crazy Riley.”
“I love you, Crazy Daddy.”
I left the room, closing her door halfway.
I got a beer from the fridge and went out to watch TV on the couch, the news coverage I’d been avoiding since my dentist appointment, since the images on the ceiling.
That morning, on the way to school, my daughter asked me where I’d go if I had a time machine.
I turned off the TV because I just couldn’t bear it. My imagination is too good.
Where would I go if I had a time machine?
My answer: Any time before today.