Some mornings when I’m sitting there on the couch, sucking down the day’s first cup of coffee, I”ll just happen to crank my neck a tinge to the left and shazzam! Out of nowhere, I’m watching my boy Henry tip over with the similar tipple/crash of a dusty implosion over on the poor side of town.
I’ll be talking to Soledad O’Brien with my sleepy eyes, flirting a little with her: you know, harmless early morning giggle stuff: and then I peer over at Hank and the poor dude, he’s perfectly parallel to the surface of the planet, coming in for a landing on the hardwood runway.
Damn, I think to myself. This one’s going to sting, old boy.
Thwap. That’s the sound his noodle makes when he bounces it off the boards. A short dull thwap. Ooof-ah.
I swallow the splash of coffee I’ve been swishing around and put down the remote. If you were to live the rest of your days in a single moment you could pick way worse than that slightest of instants between when Henry returns to Earth and when the crying kicks in. Kids have this special little delay built into their tiny systems and it’s really endearing and sweet, in a way.
It’s just that I think that maybe for Henry and all the little people like him, pure pain isn’t really ever nearly as bad as the raw heart-stopping terror they feel in times of trouble. Kids feel pain of course, I know that. As a boy, I hurt plenty.
I’ve been on the wrong end of a wasp.
I’ve been accidentally doused with a discarded canister of vintage 1983 pepper spray (when pepper spray was still something very much nuclear, something only a few ‘in-the-know’ housewives kept in their purse in case they ran into a herd of stampeding water buffalo in the parking lot of Chuck E Cheese).
Cinder block in the back of the head? Check.
Flea market switchblade comb converted to homemade switchblade steak knife in the upper lip? You betcha.
For Christmas one year my Mom just gave me a couple clean sewing needles and a variety of colored threads. “So you can do your own stitches this year, little man,” she said.
But on the whole, when I remember those magical journeys into summertime horror, I don’t recall the actual pinch or sting or ache all that much. And I definitely don’t remember those things nearly as much as I recall the plain old fashioned pounding of my heart/ the quivering of my lips/ my shaking hands in the moments that followed the stealth bomber rawhide football that spiraled down out of the heavens to whack me in the left temple when I was picking my nose behind a battleship Buick unaware that anyone was even playing football for, like, a fifty mile radius.
No matter how long we live, there’s nothing scarier than those first waves of fear lapping up around us, on our new beaches.
Early in the morning, I stick my warm coffee breath in Henry’s ear just at the exact second that his own tumble dawns on him. And right as the swift quiet in his scrunching little face gives way to the many dams behind his eyes smashing wide open, I pull him in tight and whisper through his bawling.
I’m here little buddy/ I’ve got you/ We need to get you some Suction Cup Shoes.