Like all nightmares, it began with a broken hearted man and a woman to blame it on. He’d been left to fend for himself by his child’s mother. I suppose it’s presumable he’d been left to fend for himself long before being abandoned as an adult, saddled with responsibilities no one would be prepared to cope with but somehow, our past becomes irrelevant context for our current condition.
His son was born with only three limbs. I can’t tell you which three limbs, only that he was mild mannered and somewhere between the ages of infant and toddler. I’ve never been, nor had a child.
Rather than tackling his duties as a father, he attempted to peddle his tale of woe, in exchange for fame, fortune and the hopes of sympathetic absolution; a rite of western passage. Cameras, community members and journalists were glued to him like gnats on fly paper. His sob story broke all the traditional rules; mothers who abandon their handicapped sons is unforgivable sacrilege. Single fathers exploiting their victimhood, on the other hand, is an aphrodisiac. Naturally, the whole charade made me nauseous.
He didn’t give a shit about his kid. All he thought about was himself which was proven the day he left the baby on the side of the train tracks where Revere St. and the medical marijuana shoppe intersected. Yes shoppe, because when it’s spelled like that it sounds fancier than weed store and is therefore less depressing.
I watched him walk down the hill towards Carl’s Jr. and that’s when I heard the train. The baby was sitting mutely at the foot of a concession vendor which was positioned too close to the tracks. The bells and lights rang and flashed as the large, black and white arms crossed themselves to stop the flow of traffic. Without thinking, I ran and scooped up the baby as the train came charging from the right and a manually maneuvered cart came crawling from the left run by two men bobbing up and and down on a see-saw, alerting us, like carnival barkers, that a train was coming. Even if we were all blind and deaf, the shuddering earth under our feet would’ve tipped us off that something large and ominous was headed our way. And yet, despite all manner of exasperous warning, some of us will inevitably fail to move.
The baby was safe and calm on my jutted hip. Why must caregivers also be contortionists? He was so mild mannered, as if he knew things I didn’t. The one thing I knew for sure was, I had to get back to work. Yes, there was a global pandemic and I was, am?, among the lucky few who get to work from home, but this in no way means a reprieve from merciless expectations.
I assumed my position in front of the standing laptop, while a crowd of onlookers stood behind me and the three legged baby perched in the canyon between the base of my rib cage and the summit of my femur.
You just got another email!
Do you always work this late?
Your boss just sent you another project.
Aren’t you gonna finish that note?
Hey, that looks important.
Oh, you‘ll never get all that done! Haha.
You have at least three more hours of work.
Typing with one hand, I was too defeated to feel enraged. Resignation felt like a sensible, albeit out of reach option. Stubborn determination or ruthless sadism continually overrode any notion of physiological exhaustion. Gimme a break was less of a direct request to the universe and more of the kind of unkind self-redirection required for survival in a capitalist society hell bent on exploiting blood, sweat and tears in exchange for money. Cry me a River, right?
Just as I was about to call it quits, a colleague, one of the unmasked many who crowded my house, threw a ball to Ratchet, my three legged dog. At first the game was friendly and quarantined to a small patch of flooring at the top of the stairs. But suddenly, the ball was tossed long and bounced to the bottom of the flight. Ratchet bounded after it with his old enthusiasm.
NOooooooooo! I screamed out loud, throwing myself down the stairs after my sweet fur baby, grasping the tube attached to his peritoneal catheter. In real life, it’s my husband who has a tube cascading from a perennial hole in his abdomen, but in my nightmares, the same is true for my beloved tripod.
I grabbed him in the nick of time; yanking him back protectively on the bottom step. We both gasped. He realized I wasn’t trying to hurt him but regardless, a wave of sad washed over him. Not being able to bare his distress, or soothe it, I called the owner of his friend, Summit, to arrange for an instant play date.
Summit, the black and tan shepherding dog whom Ratchet has had several sleepovers with, came bounding through the front door. Initially, their reunion was a frolicking party of sniffs, whiffs and kisses. They ran back and forth, pawing, panting and clawing their hellos. After racing to the top of the stairs, Ratchet went wobbly and crumbled into a puddle of depressed fur on the landing. What’s a matter Bubs? I whispered, scratching his head. Because this was a dream (or nightmare; whichever you see fit) he said, This is my first time seeing my friend with only three legs. I don’t feel like playing mama.
My heart broke for all of it; abandoned babies, spineless fathers, resentful mothers, the unbroken generations of repeated trauma, merciless capitalism, a global pandemic, micromanaging bosses and their exasperated targets, fast food, kidney failure, unrequited friendship, rejected love. ~
It was only just a dream from which I did wake up screaming. And so, god created the father, son, Holy Ghost and NyQuil. Therefore, I fell back to sleep for a five hour nap. Wish it wasn’t Monday.
The good news: You’re mine and I think you’re perfect.–Matthew 3