The End of Childhood

Mt Etna G and D and fog

With book in hand eyes grow heavy. Pages skip and dance, the story running ahead of me.

From a favorite chair, with coffee beside me and doors to the backyard thrown open, I drift.

Outside, along the tree line, mist clings tight to the ground, as if poised to strike.

A breeze saunters through the house, carrying the scent of freshly cut grass. The gentle wind pushes coffee’s steam across my chest.

From the trees birds sing a morning lullaby.

Quietly, peacefully, I fall asleep, the last pages of Thomas Murphy, a novel recommended by a dear friend, splayed across my lap. Resting upon the floor next to the chair our dog pants, waiting patiently for attention; eager to please.

But attention is not forthcoming as the one for whom he waits is by now dreaming.

Of what you ask?

It’s hard to remember the details. However, I recall climbing a steep path of black rock leading to a dormant volcano, reminiscent of a long ago adventure with my children. Pumice crushes gently underfoot as DJ holds my right hand, Gee my left. They’re young, perhaps six and 10, and they traipse easily to the top of a volcano, eager to explore the mighty crater with their father.

As dreams unfurl the future unfolds before us.

And unbeknownst to the sleeping me, in the basement below, a sewer line serving our old house begins to back up.

Slowly, and without fanfare, the competing flows of a washing machine, my son’s teenage shower and a dishwasher join together within an apparently clogged pipe buried 12 inches beneath the basement’s floor. Upon contact with the obstruction the gathering wastewater agitates, frustrated at restriction. Pressure builds and, backing up, the thickening water seeks escape as it overflows into the lowest open drain in the basement, an industrial sink hugging the rear wall.

The smell of the excess wastewater is subtle, almost tangy, as it drifts without invitation to join the scent of coffee and freshly cut grass in my dreams.

And in my dreams the volcano shucks its dormancy.

The world agitates.

A sharp breeze blows across the volcano’s peak, the flight of airborne specks of pumice causing my children to let go and shield their squinting eyes.

The mountain vibrates. Yet neither Gee nor DJ appear startled.

I, however, am quite startled. More so when I turn to reassure my children only to find they are no longer youngsters. They appear as adults, DJ 17, Gee 21.

“My god, look at you. You’re all grown up! How…? I mean, when did this happen?”

In the dream, as in life, they do not answer directly. They offer signals. And turning away they look ahead as we continue along the path to the top of a rumbling volcano.

They march forward, leaving me to stand alone.

I am forced to catch up.

I am no longer leading our journey; I am being led.

The dream world, however, is soon interrupted.

A horrific scream joins the tangy scent of wastewater to pierce my morning doze. Frightened, the dog leaps from hardwood floors, jostling my coffee and barking.

And jerking to attention I look about, confused. “From the backyard?” I ask the dog. Pacing a tight circle he does not answer.

Outside, mist has advanced to cross the lawn. Our home is soon swallowed as I peer into the fog in search of the wail’s origins.

Then again, a scream. From inside the house.

With book in hand I rush toward the front of the house, arriving as a third scream washes over me.

Barging through the front foyer I poke my head into the first floor office. “What’s happening? What the hell’s going on in here?”

Our shoulders brush as anger rolls past me, “Nothing! Forget it!”

I lower my voice. “Hey, listen, tell me how I can help.”

“Goddammit! I don’t need your help! Go away!”

“But maybe I could….”

My words are trampled.

“I’m being a fucking asshole! There, happy? So just leave me alone!”

And focusing on the curse words as opposed to the signal I respond sharply, “Come on. Don’t use language like that. I mean, that’s ridiculous. It’s useless.”

Fuck you.

The words find their mark as a lifetime of childhood punishments – slaps, bars of soap in my mouth, belts, wire hangers and wooden spoons – combine with years of schoolyard and barroom fights just below the surface.

In the basement, an industrial sink fills to the brim, ready to overflow.

In my dreams, now proceeding without me, the volcano heaves.

And just below the surface the familiar mechanics of violence fall into place.

My right fist clenches.

My left hand holds Rosenblatt’s open book, the pages swaying below squeezing fingertips.

Nostrils flare as the scent of sewage overwhelms the wafting smell of cut grass.

I step forward, ready to strike. Ready to inflict damage.

But no.

As I have done throughout my tenure as a parent I keep hands to myself.

Heat bursts forward from the crater’s edge to scald me.

Eyes squeeze tight as the earth rumbles under foot.

And as anger storms off I stand alone, shaking.

Though perhaps fanciful, I had hoped this day would somehow be marked by a sendoff or maybe even a little celebration; with heartfelt words offering succor.

Maybe something like, “Thanks, Dad. Thanks for raising me. And protecting me and loving me and preparing me for adulthood.”

Or perhaps a letter, handwritten in pen and sharing personal thoughts.

Truth be told, I’d be happy with a hug along with nothing more than a thank you.

Resigned, I shake off naiveté.

“No,” I whisper.

With independent children the transition is more akin to revolution than evolution.

More akin to battle than peace.

And like a revolution, the passage is swift in its arrival; tragic and sharp in its rebuke of the old regime.

Emotionally violent.

I am left without repair.

At the end of my reach pages flutter, the story now written without me.

Like birth the process is messy, painful.

The scar will last a lifetime.

And returning to my chair, I close the book on childhood.

 

 

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