We’re like an H or maybe a Z depending on how you might be standing up over our bed watching us sleep if you just so happened to be doing that, which would be super creepy by the way.
Violet, 5, Henry, 3, and me, we lay on the failing king mattress, its promise of support and pillow-topped rest now a thing of the distant past. It’s only a place to sleep now, a big sinking battleship that half-swallows your carcass in the night.
I wake up first, usually around 5:30 or 6 in the morning. Sometimes Charlie, four months now, wakes me up. He’ll roll over in his Pack-n-Play across the room and I’ll hear him let out a weak chortle or a sigh. I pounce like a leopard with bottle in hand. BOOM! If I can get the bottle between his lips fast enough, he’ll go right back to sleep, flick of a switch.
And sometimes I just wake up because I wake up.
No one making any noise.
The hum of the air conditioner will be the only sound on our Earth, the pale morning light pressing against the backside of the Venetian blinds that were here when I rented the dump. It doesn’t really matter, I guess. I wake up one way or the other and there’s just them, these three kids, and me.
One of the scariest parts of suddenly finding myself a single dad, a man without his wife, is the frequent realization that I’m the only adult person in the building. I’m the only one here to protect against a zombie invasion, should it occur. I’m the only one around who’s legal to drive. I’m the only one who knows about cavities at bedtime, and Riboflavin at mealtimes, and electric bills once a month. It took two to make all this happen, that’s what I keep telling myself, so why the hell am I the only one watching my kids sleep and wake up in this room? And why is she the only one to watch them sleep on all the other nights?
It is what it is, though and the way things have come down is that I’m the only one here now in this house, in my house, the only one who knows how to do the 911 thing or put out small fires or rub a pukey head gently should the need arise. And it will, of course. The need will arise. Someone’s going to puke up their candied guts one of these days before long and they’re gonna cry and sweat sweet kid sweat down on the 2am sheets and someone is going to have to cradle them/whisper comforting things made up on the fly/ and wish it all away and that someone is me.
I was two things before, I was the daddy and I was the husband. This morning though, as I sit here and watch this H shape of my own flesh and blood laying there out cold in the predawn chill that paints this air I pay for all of us to breathe, it hits me hard that it’s just me now. There was someone else before, another grown-up, a Mommy, to help pull things together, but she’s 20 miles away physically, probably a trillion miles when it comes to what we had.
Probably a lot of guys never want to admit that they get scared at stuff, especially the stuff that’s so heavy, like separation and single-parenting and all. Not me though. I’ve got to let it all out, I guess. I’m scared shitless. You can filter a lot of stuff down through the macho cheesecloth, but in the end there’s nothing much anyone can say about you, or even think about you, that matters at all when you’re the dude on the bed watching the kids sleep away another early summer morning. I move through feelings of peace and gratitude and I waltz down through the garden of beauty or whatever, realizing that I have so much in this world because I have these kids in mine.
But these days, before long, as my marriage breaks up all around me, fresh and perfectly shattered pieces of U-boat bobbing up and down in the quiet instants after the missile has hit, I sit there and eventually all these good things I try and sell myself on lead me back to the fear, to the feeling that you feel when you’re straight up scared of so much happening so fast and so hard.
I don’t doubt myself, really. I mean, I know I’ll probably be alright. I know deep down inside me that I would bite a zombie bitch in the face if one showed up here eyeballing any one of my kids. But there’s someone missing now, someone who I never thought would go missing.
I stare at my sleeping kids and I realize that we’ve all lost something pretty damn huge here along the way. I stare at the empty pillow where their mom used to sleep and I know damn well that she ain’t sleeping there no more. And I sigh. And I just wait around for someone, for anyone, to wake up.
Because I’m still here, because I’m Dad.
And because I ain’t going anywhere.
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