It was one of those nights when you feel far away from everything, like you’re drifting through an emotional outer space every bit as dark and empty as the real one, but closer; when you’re walking around your neighborhood with your five-year-old dinosaur aficionado before bedtime and he’s using a “power stick” he found in the road to beat back a charging T. Rex and you run around the elementary school to “headquarters” where you’re safe and you wonder how it is that this kid exists. You’re five years in now. You haven’t wrapped your head around it any more now than that first night when you heard he was coming and you were elated and dizzy and you knew life was going to be different but had no idea—could never know—just how much.
It was one of those walks where you hear your shoes crunch the first fallen leaves, and in the late summer air the cicada song no longer plays but the crickets croon from weary lawns. The boy’s stick scrapes the asphalt behind him and cuts a dissonance into the calm. You realize, even with the crickets and the rocks and the leaves and the footsteps, that silence looms. It bears down upon you.
With no forethought you stop and look at him. “I want to tell you a secret that’s not so secret,” and he stops and stares back at you. The cricket sings. “It’s that I want to be close to you for the rest of my life. I want to always be buddies and friends.”
“I want that too,” he says.
And then you say something his young brain can’t follow:
“Someday, when you’re a grownup, I’m going to do things that annoy you.”
“Why?” he asks, frowning a little.
You chuckle and say, “I won’t try to. It’s just a thing that happens in life. You’ll be my age and I’ll do things that make you say ‘why does my dad do that?’ But I hope you’ll still love me and still want to be my friend.”
“I will,” he says, lifting his stick and thrusting it at an imaginary raptor.
You laugh and look both ways before leading him across the street and pretend you aren’t weeping inside from the loneliness that hangs over life like a pending autumn.
One of those nights where you wave off sad realizations like horseflies. Like that winter is coming and there’s not a thing you can do to slow it, and though you have food and shelter and warmth, you still hope you’re able to survive. We’ve conquered the elements without; the elements within still threaten. Realizations, like that your kid is changing and he doesn’t ask you to play with him at lunch anymore like he used to every day. After enough times being told no, he has learned better. Realizations, like if we stay in this house much longer I’ll be sitting at our table in the same dining room in the morning and I’ll look at the chair where he used to sit across from me and I’ll wonder why he doesn’t visit more. The quietness which is so scarce now will be ours in abundance then, and we’ll wonder how it all could have gone so fast—when day after day we heard dinosaur noises without refrain in his every waking moment and all of a sudden it’s gone. He won’t ask if he can have a graham cracker or watch more TV. He won’t stomp through the backyard, roaring until our ears hurt, whining when we say it’s time for bed. His face won’t ignite when he sees me drop to my knees to be a Triceratops. Realizations, like that the very things I find a nuisance now will be far away treasures I covet.
It was one of those nights when, lying in the den in quarantine, isolating even from your wife because you tested positive for COVID, you begin to wonder if the prolonged feeling that God isn’t there isn’t more than a feeling. You begin to realize that faith will never be to you what it once was, and that maybe that’s a good thing. This brings a comfort, but it makes you feel alone. Alone in this world with the thoughtlessness of all people. Alone with your inadequate self, feeling thirsty and unclean.
It was one of those nights.
In that space you drift, and had you gone to the moon itself, you wouldn’t be lonelier. From this cosmic distance you stare at the planet of your life and ponder that in a universe so black and severe there should be a circle of color as meaningful as this.