When we put the kids to bed, you crawled into bed beside me and your cold toes hit my ankles.
I didn’t know what you were planning or what I was up for, but it was late. And if you wanted to do something, then I would. Fine. I am always ready.
I felt your breath and one hanging strand of your hair tickle my cheek. You were leaning over me, as I imagined with my eyes closed, like a tiger making sure the deer was asleep. Do tigers eat deer, I thought?
I thought of you as a huntress – Daphne, maybe – looking for the perfect place to plant a kiss, at an unsuspecting faker. A faker of sleep, like James when I unbuckled his seat-belt and brought his limp body up the stairs to bed, a fallen hero to a funeral pyre. He nearly conquered the night, but the enemy of Missing-Something stabbed him.
We both knew I was awake. Just ten minutes ago, I was brushing my teeth in the blinding bathroom, wearing my t-shirt and boxers.
It was a long day and I listened to a song in the car that reminded me of high school. It was a Peter Gabriel song, one that I recall shifting the entire frame of reality. One that I recall bursting the hollow imitation of innocence.
But now, when I hear it, the earth remains spherical and there is no way for me to make it flat. My frame is set and it was set with that song. Now, that song merely marks the beginning of now. Then, it marked that end of now. The Needle of Now vibrates in small motions over North and it would be unwise for me to go South. Even if I could find my way back. The sun is going down.
And now it is down and you are over me like a tiger or Daphne, moving forward but afraid of breaking a twig. I opened the window before I went to bed. It is one of those nights when you say to yourself, It is one of those nights, one where the window should be left open. The crickets sang their song of Taking a Nap With Mom.
When I was five and my dad was out of town, my mother brought me up to her bedroom and laid me down for a nap. We said little to each other, although I had little intention of taking a long nap and could have said, “But Mom, I’m not tired.”
Earlier that day, she took the bed-sheets, the heavy cool white quilt and the thin smooth toga, off the clothesline after I ran through them, worried that someone was behind the sheets, ready to catch me.
We took the nap as the sun was setting and, closing my eyes, learned the most profound lesson in my life; naps are very good. She was there with me, her arm around me, and I knew I would not be killed.
Not two minutes later, I opened my eyes and it was dark. Thousands of crickets screamed like someone had lit matches and seared their butts.
Mom was gone.
At first, I was confused. But confusion turned into fear and fear turned into anger. She left me! She left me! And who was going to protect me from the face of the disembodied Larry, peering through the old farmhouse window? The window was open, the crickets cried fowl, and Larry knew that Mom was downstairs drinking coffee and talking to Dad. It was supposed to be her nap, not mine!
In my ear, my wife whispered, “Want to go on an adventure?”
So much for a kiss. But, like I said, I was ready for anything. Always ready.
I smiled half of my face, the half in the pillow. “Oh, but I’m so tired.”
It was true that I was tired, but I could go either way. I would have been happy if she said, “Okay, let’s go to bed then.” But she convinced me, with three simple words. “A big adventure.”
I jumped out of bed as if my arm had not fallen asleep under the summer-knighted pillow. I stretched and yawned, pulling on my jeans from the floor like a fallen shade.
We said little to each other, but I got the keys from the wooden bowl on the counter, looked at her stillness in the kitchen under the oppressive ceiling light, and opened the door to the garage.
We got in the car and closed the doors, feeling as if we were in the loading bay of an enemy warship. At least, that is how I felt. I imagined we were leaving something dangerous. We were; dreaming children. Nothing is more dangerous.
“The kids will be okay.” She said to me.
I did not believe her, but for the sake of adventure, I nodded my head.
We drove for thirty minutes, but it was not silent. The moon spoke so loudly, every cloud moved out of the way. It spoke with a clear and defiant voice. “I am the Moon your god, who brought you out of your house and into the house of my light.” He was welcoming, but I did not know what to say to him. Thank you, maybe?
We went to the beach, the tired waves crashing, half-asleep.
We went to the water, leaving two piles of clothes on the beach.
We went to the sea bottom, leaving the surface sparkling like my son’s blue eyes under the oppressive ceiling lights in our kitchen. We played in the coral reef for hours, worried we might find an eel around the corner ready to snap at us.
But there was no other creature there, only us and the silent waving seaweed holding onto the stone for dear life.
We held on to each other and the invisible tide could not snatch us. We sat on the top of the coral and in the distance of that hushed world, witnessed the slow descent of half a ship.
It was half a sailboat. The tangled mast billowed in the wind of the sunken waves. The wheel faced us vertically standing on the deck, waving at us with its eight arms, saying mechanically, “Thanks for stopping by!” And to the next person in line asking, “Insert five coins, please.”
When the shell of wood struck the seafloor, a cloud of sand covered the entire empty spectacle, distant and dead like a deserted fairground in Kansas. If the knees of a towering ferris wheel give out, does anyone hear its pained fall?
I sighed – relieved – and leaned over to kiss my wife as if we just witnessed the Grand Finale of a fireworks show.
Up on the cliff, above the ocean and the small hills of clothes, a boy of fourteen finishes his trumpet solo for the Sinking of the Spirit Past. I have a thought to throw five coins into his trumpet case or to rub his hair, but he doesn’t need it. His solo is payment enough, under the moon that demands worship and above the married couple delighting in the passing of time.
Well done, kid. You have learned the second most profound lesson in my life; growing up is not done by escaping feeling, but by feeling the right things.
We feel cold toes and we don’t move our legs away.
We feel full and we play trumpet solos for an ocean, half-asleep.