On the eve of my second son’s birth, my thoughts have focused quite steadily on fathers and sons. Though I’ve written many letters to them both, I still find my mind wandering down too many avenues of what-ifs.
This piece started life in a graduate writing class at Dartmouth. As I sat down to write for a prompt I have very much forgotten, I kept seeing a man in his late 50s who had had an ordinary, but decent, life. He stood alone at a bus stop when his time ended and Death came for him. He pleaded not for his life, for he knew he couldn’t keep it, but to be allowed to hold onto the memory of his first kiss to the woman that would become his wife.
A few weeks ago, I saw a young Nigerian dad and his son at a playground. The big smiles from both of them, the exuberant joy the dad expressed at his son climbing one of the obstacles, and the spinning hug at the end made me sadly realize what an oddly unique sight this was in our new hometown. So when I finally got the chance to revise this piece, I couldn’t help but incorporate the good and the bad that had been brewing in my mind.
The last time I saw her, I was holding my son.
The car didn’t stop. I rushed to Jai. All I could see was his broken face becoming a ghost. It slid into every good memory I had of him. Not even a chance to say goodbye. He couldn’t feel me squeeze his hand three times like his mama always did.
I. Love. You.
There should have been sirens, street sounds, cries. No sound at all. My heart failed. In that brief dark, I glimpsed her face. She said something. For years I told myself that it was, “Not yet.”
I was naive.
She stands before me. Black in a field of white. She absently tugs at a curl of hair. Her gaze set to something I can’t see. Her mouth moves. All I hear are fingers sliding along rims of wine glasses.
A slick smile darkens her thick lips before they part again.
The resonance turns to heartbeat–turns to static–turns to ocean–turns to nothing. The white that envelops us quivers.
“Let’s try again,” she says while crossing her arms. “Welcome, Latrell,”
I don’t remember how I got here. I can feel all of that fading.
“You have a question for me,” she says. I can’t tell if she’s telling or asking me.
“Is this the end? Whatever this place is.”
Her forehead creases. It makes her appear sad or maybe sincere. “No, sweetie. It’s a waiting room.” She walks toward me. “That’s not the question you wanted to ask.”
I look down at my hands. They look older than I think they should.
“Focus Latrell, this is important.”
His face is almost gone. “My boy.”
She nods as she takes my wrinkled hands in hers.
“Will I see him?”
She smiles again. Her eyes flicker. The colored parts turn from dark brown to yellow. Then they ignite. “Hurry Latrell,” she says as she squeezes my hands.
“Can I keep it?”
Light and fire swirl around us. A great heat covers me. I feel like I am ripping apart and being put back together with each breath. Shreds of me blink in and out. Behind it all is a great rolling noise like ocean and thunder giving birth to something more powerful.
I smell her perfume on the night we were married.
I feel his foot kick my hand from behind his mama’s skin and muscle.
I hear his cry as he takes his first breath.
I see his first smile turn to his last.
The green Ford with out-of-state plates speeds away with his life. The tires screeching over any chance of him hearing me.
Her voice fills what’s left of my mind. He heard you. Three squeezes.
I don’t even know if I have eyes to cry.
Latrell. It’s time. I can’t tell you what happens next, but I can give you this.
We are at the playground. Jai climbs across all of the monkey bars, drops to the ground, and runs to me at full speed. His arms flung wide with the biggest grin on his face.
Dada, I did it!
We collide, his arms and legs wrapping around me in his best hug. I stand and spin him wide and fast. I think he will giggle, but he looks at me, still smiling, and says, I love you too, Dada.