Early Onset

I ought to be outlining my American Revolutionary History lecture for tonight’s class at the junior college, but I’ve spent the morning reimagining the closet, what we don’t need, what we might need, what we can and can’t reach, etc. And without intending it, I find myself doing the same with the file cabinet, the kitchen pantry, the fridge. I’m not making what a sensible person would call progress. I’m exhibiting symptoms of an illness I can’t name, but which is becoming very common.

When Ted awakens from his nap, it’s a relief. He pulls up on my T-shirt—the T-shirt I’ve borrowed from my wife—and plunges his face into the left side of my chest. Does he really think I can nurse him, or is this just his way of saying he’s hungry? After a stupid search for a rubber nipple, I warm a bottle of soy milk in the microwave.

I hold him in my lap while he drinks and we watch a program on CNN—four men in suits talking about the war in Iraq. The men are having what sounds like a vigorous debate, but not about the rightness or wrongness of the President’s current course of action, at least not in any moral sense. The men are inventing scenarios and comparing strategies. I hear no mention of civilian casualties. I hear very enthusiastic descriptions of satellite pictures and missile launchers. I see maps and arrows closing in on targets, cities. It reminds me of the many football talk shows that filled the air at all hours only a few months before. Although I enjoy games of what if, with this I feel my neck getting hot.

Ted and I meet the girls at the school bus stop. “My hair is still a little bit short,” my seven-year-old Lucy explains to her good friend Abby, “but I don’t call it short anymore.”

We’re walking down our street to the playground. Lucy, Abby, Ted, curled in the baby jogger, and me. I’m making a conscious effort to be present, to notice what’s happening around me. I’ve been doing that lately. I’ve been trying.

“This is how teenagers walk,” Lucy says. She skips ten feet ahead with an exaggerated sway of the hips, one hand in the back pocket of her jeans.

“It’s more like this,” says Abby, showing the same sway, but with her chin thrust forward and one hand swatting at her bangs as if she’s got flies in her face.

“Dad,” Lucy says, “what if people were made of one hundred percent water?”
“What about two hundred percent?” says Abby.

“Or two hundred billion infinity?” says Lucy.

“Yeah,” says Abby.

I wonder how such terrible violence could be happening at this moment under this same sky. It is still and cloudless here and the blue of the sky looks neon blue against the yellow poplars.

“Dad?” Lucy says.

I’d seen some pictures on the Internet, the kind they won’t show on TV. I’d seen a man in a ditch. He had no legs. I saw a child with one arm. There was blood in the rubble.


“What?” I say.

“What if?”

“What if every time you sneezed, you grew another limb?” I manage.

“Yeah,” Abby says, “that’d be weird.”

“No,” Lucy says, “what if we were only water, like all of us?”

“I don’t know if we’d be people then,” I say.

“We’d be water.” Abby hoots. “We wouldn’t wear clothes. We’d come in bottles.”

“Some kind of container,” Lucy says. “Mrs. Green told us we’re mostly made of water. I almost can’t believe that.”
“I’ve had trouble with that one myself,” I say. “I guess there’s an important difference between mostly and one hundred percent, which means entirely.” What I want to say is, get used to it. There is the world of explanation and the world of experience, and they seem to have little in common. Get used to it, is that what I want to say?

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