“Look at me, Pa!” The way he calls me Pa makes me smile, makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Grandpa sounds so old.
Davie slid head-first down the biggest slide and bounced up laughing. I gave him a double thumbs-up sign. He ran over to our bench, got a juice box out of the snack bag and sat down next to me.
I sensed that something was bothering him. “What is it, kiddo?”
He clicked his tongue and said, “Mommy and Daddy were fighting again. I had to cover my ears.”
I shook my head and sighed.
“Why do they fight so much?” ... “Why are they always so mad at each other?”
“You’re only seven, Davie. It’s hard to explain.
“You try, Pa.” The child’s words were soft, but had the weariness and edginess of my son, Joseph, a burnt-out corrections officer with too many years on the job, too many overtime hours, and far too few minutes at home.
“Well, it’s like this. When two people get together ...”
“You mean like Mommy and Daddy?”
“Yup. And they love each other very much ...”
“Like you and Grandma, right?”
“Sure, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes people fight and sometimes they just don’t get along. Sometimes they don’t much enjoy being with each other. Like, say, you and your baby sister.”
“She’s such a pain. She takes my toys and she’s always crying.” Good. I got him side-tracked. “She’s such a cry-baby. I want to ...” He curled both hands into fists, and he roared like he does when we play “tyrannosaurus rex versus the super heroes” with his action figures. With him, it’s always dinosaurs and shoot-’em-up toys, instead of the Lego sets and puzzles we’d bought for him.
“You’ve got to understand,” I continued, “that’s the way little kids are.”
He lowered his arms but the tension was still there.
“C’mon,” I said. “Let’s go over to the swings. I’ll push.”
He slipped his miniature hand into mine as we stood up. I smiled when he remembered his empty juice box and then tossed it into the big-mouthed-gorilla trash bin.
I reached down to lift him onto the swing, but he insisted, “I can do it myself.” After a couple of jumps and shimmies and grunts worthy of an Oscar, he finally got himself up and seated. “Big push, Pa!”
I pulled him backwards and up and held the swing high over my head. “This time, I’ll push you so hard you’ll make it all the way around.” I didn’t know if it were possible and I’d never let it happen, anyway. But he giggled in anticipation.
We got into a steady rhythm, back and forth, the chain creaking on its hook. I reached in and tickled his tummy on a couple of downward arcs. He stuck his foot out, as if to kick me.
“C’mon ... that’s not nice.”
“Higher! Higher!” he squealed.
“No. I don’t want you to get hurt,” in my own father’s voice.
But then Davie remembered his unanswered question: “But, why, Pa?”
What was I going to tell him? How could I tell him? What could a seven-year-old possibly comprehend?
That all of his father’s hours away from home were not really overtime? That sometimes Joseph needed to “relax with the boys,” as he put it, down at the firehouse, but more often was knocking back a few, and then a few too many, at Duffy’s? And after his lips were loosened, there were tearful confessions to me about hooking up with an old flame now turning tricks, who had done things to him, for him and with him that his wife would never do. But Joseph was my son, my own flesh and blood.
It turns out, Joseph’s wife was on to him. Melanie knew everything. I figure Davie had an idea, too. How could he not? I just hope he didn’t know the rest.
I had known – really known – Melanie before Joseph did. I was no angel. And I was the one who had introduced Melanie to Joseph one night at Duffy’s. They started dating, and after they got serious, I was the one who got sidelined. Joseph seemed so happy that I kept it all to myself. Maybe, in retrospect, I should’ve leveled with him.
A year into their marriage, Melanie started dropping over for coffee, to confide in my wife Joanie, and, I guess, to share womanly secrets with her. All the while, Joseph was spending less and less time with Melanie. Of course, I knew why and where and how much it was costing. It’s not like they fought that much, then. He was just not there for her. When I muted the TV, I heard, between sobs, Melanie using words like “abandoned” and “discarded” and woeful cries of “I can never seem to make him happy” and “he just doesn’t want me any more.”
As if Joanie, sitting upstairs at the kitchen table in her floor-length flannel robe swigging whiskey-diluted black coffee from her chipped ceramic cup, could fully comprehend. “Oh, c’mon ... don’t start in with me again,” she has pleaded when I’ve tried to confront her. “You know it relaxes my nerves ...”
By then, Joanie was passing out earlier every evening, not to mention shutting me out. And one night, after Joanie excused herself to stagger up to bed, Melanie tromped downstairs and asked, “Whatcha watching?” and plopped down next to me – and, I mean, right next to me – and leaned her head against my shoulder and nonchalantly dropped her hand on my leg and then, not so nonchalantly, started caressing ... I mean, how could I resist? It had been so damn long. And I wasn’t about to give her up so easily again.
That was eight years ago, give or take.
And how do you tell your grandson that he’s probably your own kid? That you’re most probably his real father? How do you explain something like that to a seven-year-old?
I know what you’re thinking: That we’re all screwed up or dysfunctional or crazy or whatever. Well, up yours. You haven’t walked in our shoes.
... “But why, why, why, why, why, Pa?” Five why’s ... this kid just wouldn’t give up.
“Who knows why? But I know one thing for sure. I love you, Davie. You’re my own, very special boy.”
“I love you too, Pa.”
I stopped the swing and held him close. And I hoped that that’d be enough.
Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 53, February 2020
Rev 6 / May 18, 2007 ... Rev 8 / November 19 2014
May 18, 2007 Copyright © 2007 & 2008, Lloyd B. Abrams