DJ sleeps, exhausted from a day far away.
28 stories above Time Square, in the bed closest to the window, my son rests under crisp white sheets. I can’t see his face as he’s turned away from me, facing the lingering lights of late night New York.
Ignoring the solicitations of sleep I whisper into darkness, “DJ, you awake?”
My question is met by silence.
And in the swell of silence, late night thoughts are left to drift on a tide of memories. I collect such memories and commit them to paper hoping my children will find them many years hence; hoping they’ll wade through long lost memories of a day far away.
A day like today.
Placing my pen on an end table next to the bed farthest from the window I wonder how my son will remember this day. I shrug before falling back to an oversized hotel pillow. Crewcut length hair crackles against the starched pillowcase as my head rolls from side to side.
Our beds are separated by two or three feet and I am forced to lean toward his side of the room to hear soft breaths.
“He’s asleep,” I tell surrounding silence. No matter if he’s a 17 year old man as tall as me, the sound of my child at rest fills me with a sense of comfort.
My child’s rhythmic breaths lap at the shores of slumber, methodically drawing me toward the end of the day. Minutes float by as his breathing thickens. Softly he begins to snore. Those gentle snores overtake the fading din of the square below as our room grows quiet.
Between each of my son’s soft snores a space is filled by the sounds of silence. She works quickly, efficiently, to fill cracks in an otherwise noisy world.
Soon thereafter I too begin to doze.
On tip toes sleep approaches. She’s graceful as an evening breeze, regal in her sense of duty. And confident; oh, so confident. Sensing the presence of silence, sleep turns to find her friend working from the foot of my bed. Sleep gives silence a playful wink. In turn, silence draws a finger to pursed lips. And slipping through darkness to approach my bed sleep clears her throat.
I can’t see her but I know she’s near.
Like a child not ready for nap time I protest, “No…please…”
My head rocks across the pillowcase. Unconcerned with my fuss, sleep takes pause. She straightens herself before resting hands on hips. And knowing her longtime companion, silence, enjoys the stillness of such moments sleep asks aloud, “Well, is he ready for me or not?” She circles the bed before leaning in to get a good look at her current charge. She’s so close her breath brushes my cheeks.
Silence steps aside as I mumble, “No … not yet.”
“This one’s putting up a fight, isn’t he?” coos sleep.
Silence smiles at my effort, the way a mother might smile at a weary child. Taking a seat on the edge of the bed her smile broadens as I resist sleep’s patient advances.
I rub heavy eyes before propping myself up on a pile of pillows.
“Don’t let it end,” I urge myself. And searching for ways to stay awake I fumble for my Kindle. “My book; yeah, that’ll work.”
I grab the Kindle from the end table. “Just keep reading,” I tell myself.
Returning to The Buried Giant I make it through two pages before tired eyes protest. They grow heavy as words take flight to float above the screen.
I reach under glasses to pinch flickering eyes. “Stay awake,” I plead. “Please…”
My plea is greeted by the sounds of silence.
Without worry, sleep takes her time to stroll about the room. Finding her station at the end of the bed she again clears her throat. Crossing smooth arms she cocks her hip. She taps a patient finger against an ageless chin as her head tilts slightly to the right. Her smile suggests she enjoys such resistance. “It’s time for sleep, little one.”
Once more I try The Buried Giant. I make it through half a page before eyelids flutter. Eyeglasses slip, starting a slow decent toward the tip of my nose. As glasses continue their little journey, words begin to blur.
And attempting to return glasses to their proper position I inadvertently knock them from my face. They fall silently to plush hotel carpet.
“Now, that won’t help,” suggests sleep.
I rest my Kindle on the end table and as I do sleep glides forward. She extends a bare foot – as a ballerina might – to gently kick my glasses under the bed, just out of reach. Looking toward her friend she offers a playful shrug. “A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Is that how you say it?”
Silence responds with a dramatic frown. She turns toward the window to wave a hand over a restless Times Square. Within our room the world is hushed to a gentle murmur.
Lurching over the side of the bed I grope for glasses without success. Resigned, I return to my pillow, hoping I will not step on them when I awake tomorrow.
Though the hotel room is now a blur, Time Square’s lingering lights pour through the window to form a kaleidoscope of splashing colors.
“I always prefer when they close the blinds,” remarks sleep.
“Beautiful,” I whisper.
Looking to sleep, silence can’t help but smile.
And seeing her friend smile sleep returns the gesture. She scoots forward to find my face. Softly she begins to blow warm breaths across my cheek.
In an effort to resist sleep’s siren song I begin to catalog today’s activities. I tick off places, smells, songs and words spoken by my son during the course of the day.
“I’m right here,” sleep whispers.
I push her away. “Please, let me stay…”
Sleep takes my hand. “Where? Where do you want to stay, little one?”
“Here,” I whisper. “In this day… in this place…”
She looks to silence and offers a coy smirk. “He really does not want this day to end does he?”
Without a word silence moves forward to rest a delicate finger across my lips.
But sleep’s now curious. She purrs, “Tell me, my little pearl, where do you think you are?”
Disregarding her question I drift to the edge of the day, teetering between the here and now and a place far away.
And ignoring the tug of sleep I recall the day…
I think of waking up early.
“Take me there,” whispers sleep.
And stepping close to her companion, silence takes sleep’s hand in hers. Without thought they close eyes and listen as I catalog details from a day far away.
Waking before the alarm at 6:30AM I make my way downstairs, taking time to play with the dog, then the cat. After feeding Sawyer and Rifka I write, just a bit mind you, but there’s something I feel compelled to commit to paper. I’m enjoying my second cup of joe along with the accompanying scent of freshly brewed coffee before I sneak out of the house by 8:00 for a run. Not too far, but far enough to make me feel good.
The river path is quiet as I am joined by a modest collection of fellow runners. The smell of recently cut grass and budding flowers along the banks of the Charles fill me with a sense of boyhood wonder.
Before returning home I stop at D&D to grab myself another coffee and an iced latte with mocha and whole milk for DJ. I’ll leave the drinks in the car so we can down them once we’re on our way. And as I order my drinks at D&D I can’t resist adding a box of muffins; blueberry and coffee cake. We’ll eat them before we leave or on the road, whichever my son prefers.
Returning to the house I find DJ sleeping. As I often do, I knock gently before cracking his bedroom door. And hearing no response I peek in to see my child sleep. Along with sleep, I find silence attending his room. Nodding to the pair I smile at a fleeting memory; years ago, I used to knock, peek and watch Gee sleep, buried under a pile of covers. Closing the door I leave DJ in the company of sleep and silence.
Brewing another pot of coffee I wake DJ a bit after 10:00. I greet him with coffee in bed; black with no sugar and an ice cube. “Hey, buddy. Time to wake up.” Silence and sleep take their leave as my son rustles under sheets, groping to shield eyes from morning light.
“Hey, DJ, here’s some joe. Drink up while I go shower. We’ll cut outa here when you’re ready. OK?”
DJ nods before enjoying his coffee in bed.
We head out shortly thereafter. The muffins are finished before we hit our first stop on the Mass Pike.
With the help of the car’s new stereo system (installed purposely in time for this trip to New York) we take turns picking tunes. My selection includes Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Division Bell. DJ cranks Hiatus Kaiyote (see you August 1 at the Paradise, HK!) and Lettuce.
“Check this out,” DJ crows over the horns of Lettuce. His head bobs to wailing saxophones. “They’re from Berkley. And they’re spot on!” My son closes his eyes and dances a little dance in the passenger seat.
I beam as the moment swells to fill both the car and my heart.
As we often do on a trip to New York we stop at Mickey D.’s on the Mass Pike so DJ can load up on Chicken McNuggets. At the neighboring D&D I pick up another coffee.
We work our way through the most recent Lettuce album before I convince DJ to bang out some homework during our ride. We debate the merits of his assignment on perspective before agreeing he’ll start homework when we reach Hartford. The deal is sealed with a curt, “Fine.”
Just past Hartford I become a buzz kill as I prompt DJ to begin his assignment. My son is pissed and makes a show of it. He rummages through his overnight bag in search of his laptop with dramatic flurry. I let the attitude slide as I weave my way into a conversation regarding the application of perspective to the arts, the topic of his essay.
Teenage fingers click across the keyboard as we make our way to New York City. Every few minutes he mumbles a curse.
After an hour or so he slams his laptop shut. “Shit! I’m still a page short! I need five pages and I’m barely at four. This sucks! This really sucks.”
He turns to stare out the window as the trees of Connecticut pass us by.
“Can you get to the internet? With your phone I mean.”
He responds with a withering ‘Are you stupid?’ look.
Assuming the role of technically challenged dad I bob my eyebrows up and down before sharing a suggestion. “Lighten up, Bon Jovi. Why don’t you get on the web to grab some images, you know, of things showing the concept of perspective. Maybe some famous artwork or something.”
He rubs his chin as I continue, “Teachers love that stuff. You know, pictures and things; it’ll show him you thought about it. And, well, it’s about perspective right? I mean your whole damn essay could be pictures if you wanted.”
By the New York border DJ has added a page of images. We’re soon laughing at images DJ finds and describes to me as we drive toward the city. The mood shifts as DJ adds volume to the music. The Beatles soon fill the car, making continued conversation easy. My son finishes his essay, now complete at five pages.
I smile, enjoying the moment.
For the rest of the trip we talk about the things fathers and sons discuss when left alone.
Crossing the Harlem River DJ prompts me, “Almost there?”
“Almost,” I nod.
We could have flown or taken the train from Boston, but I wanted this; this car ride. Just me and my son in a place far away. And though he won’t know it until he reads this story in the distant future, it’s this time together – more so than the David Gilmour concert – for which I’ve eagerly awaited.
We follow the banks of the Hudson as silence joins our journey. She’s coy and patient, taking her time to ease her way into the car. Conversation stops as DJ and I soak in the growing New York skyline.
As we pass under the GW Bridge I walk DJ through the story of my father’s tenure on the bridge as a twenty something steelworker. DJ’s heard it all before but he sits back and lets me share the family tale. At the end of the story silence becomes more assertive as she takes my son’s hand in hers. In the quiet I think of my father. Next to me DJ stares out an open window across the Hudson, thinking private thoughts.
There’s little city traffic. Once we’ve parked we make our way to the Novotel. As we scoot through the lobby DJ slows our pace. “Dad, this is cool. I love this place.”
I smile the smile of a satisfied dad.
Upon checking into the hotel we find our room on the 28th floor. And throwing down his bag my son picks the bed closest to the window.
Silence takes her leave as DJ and I stand at the window, sharing comments regarding Times Square below.
We linger in the room, enjoying conversation.
The day’s memories begin to drift as my waking strength fades. Sleep leans in to bump the shoulder of her friend, silence. “I love this part.”
I begin to dream and in my dream I step off the edge of the GW Bridge.
A feeling of freefall startles me, jerking me awake before I strike the Hudson below. My heart pounds.
Covering red lips with the back of a hand, sleep giggles.
Looking about the blur of our hotel room I shake it off, separating myself from the temptations of sleep. Pushing aside silence I mumble, “The concert. Think of the concert.”
Silence bites a nail as sleep rolls her eyes, amused. “My word, he’s some piece of work!” She shrugs before addressing me. “OK fine, my pearl. What else have you got for us? Show us!”
Shoulder to shoulder they lean forward, curious.
And with sleep and silence so very near I catalog the details of an evening with my son.
DJ looks to his phone. “Ready? It’s almost 7:00PM. Let’s head out.” He beams before continuing, “I am pumped to see David Gilmour.”
“I’m pumped to hear David Gilmour!”
My son rolls his eyes as we head toward Radio City Music Hall.
In less than five minutes we’re there. The line for entry is huge and though tempted, I’m too old to cut in front of everyone. Joining the rear of the line we quickly make friends with a Gilmour fan a bit younger than me. He’s drunk, though it’s a friendly drunk. We share concert stories. For his part he followed Kiss around the globe for years. He nods to DJ, “This your first concert, kid?” Our new friend is left slack jawed as DJ rattles off a list of concerts. “Ringo? You saw fucking Ringo Starr twice?” DJ nods. “Outstanding, my brother.” Awkwardly they high five. DJ works to contain laughter as our drunken friend steadies himself.
And upon passing through a phalanx of metal detectors we gain entrance to Radio City Music Hall. Inside, lights hush and the crowd roars.
The hall fills with the smell of bud. I tap my son on the shoulder, bending close to speak over the wailing guitar. “Hey, is someone lighting candles or something? That smell … it’s candles, right?” DJ pulls back laughing at my purposeful stupidity. My misspent teen years are well known to my son through previously discovered stories.
“Right, Dad. Candles.”
After many familiar songs there’s an intermission. I – along with every other 50+ year old man attending the show – rush downstairs to pee. The lines are crushing but good natured. DJ and his 17 year old bladder remain in the lobby while I make my way to a crowded bathroom. And upon my return to the lobby I find DJ laughing hysterically as he speaks to his sister Gee on the phone.
He yells over the noise of the lobby, “Hey, Gee, Dad’s right here. You wanna speak to him?”
Before she can answer I yell over the din, “Love you, Gee!”
DJ leans forward to hear his sister’s response. He bursts out laughing and gives me a quick shake of the head before ending the call. “She heard you but she had to go.”
I act offended. “Ouch, man. That hurt!”
“No, no Dad. She wanted to speak with you but she was going out. And, well you know how much you like to talk so…”
Smirking, I waive off his explanation. “It’s cool. You and Gee wanted to chat. I get it. I’ll catch up with her later.” And as we return to our seats (a process interrupted by DJ’s misplacement of his ticket) I walk behind my son, smiling at the bond between sister and brother.
During the concert we join thousands to sing along with David Gilmour. With each song, I snatch peeks at my son, watching and listening as he sings along with Money, Run Like Hell and Wish You Were Here.
My boy and I are in heaven.
And upon the completion of the encore, we loiter in the lobby as I hunt for reasons to extend the day. We buy t-shirts. We chit chat with strangers. I pick a non-linear path back to our hotel. We walk slowly.
New York’s night air is bracing. I shiver, more at the thought of the day’s conclusion than the cold city air.
“Hey, DJ, wanna grab something to eat?”
“I dunno, dad. I’m beat. Let’s head back to the hotel. I like that place.”
“What? Did I just hear you say no to food? Now that’s a first!” I tap my chin before pointing an index finger into cold city air. “How ‘bout this. If the Stardust is open we’ll get something to eat. If it’s not we’ll head back to the room. Deal?”
“I don’t know Dad, I’m pretty tired…”
“Oh come on, it’s probably closed. Just say yes to your old man!”
We wind our way through city blocks to the Stardust. And seeing the diner is open I throw my arms in the air. “Yes!” I rush forward to grab the door before DJ is able to mount a protest.
It’s late and there are plenty of available tables. We’re greeted by Sarah. She’s polite and efficient and, like the rest of the staff, capable of belting out Broadway show tunes at the drop of a hat. She sits us down suggesting we order fast; before the kitchen closes.
DJ downs a burger and fries and I enjoy a (not so great) decaf coffee and a (great) plate of stuffed potatoes.
Sarah serenades us as the end of our day draws near.
The staff lets loose with their last songs. Broadway hopefuls jump on chairs and benches to share talents with the lingering crowd. Dish cleaners and bus boys drift from the back room, laughing, and whispering to each other in Spanish.
Sarah takes center stage. She belts out an unfamiliar song. DJ’s eyebrows drift upward in respect. “Wow, she’s great. She’s been trained.” I nod, not hearing the nuances heard by my son.
Though I’m clearly tapping the diner’s last pot of decaf I ask for more coffee.
DJ shakes his head. “When’s this day gonna end, Dad?”
“Never … I hope.”
And during the staff’s final song DJ and I take our leave from the Stardust. DJ bops and dances his way to the door to the staff’s delight.
Within five minutes we’re at the Novotel, getting ready for bed.
Before turning in we stand at the window and stare at the late night version of Time Square. The lights are dimmed and the sounds softer.
DJ speaks first. “It’s really beautiful.”
And turning to my son I surprise him with a hug. “I love you, DJ.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
His head rests on my shoulder for a moment before he gently pushes me away.
He smiles before grabbing his bag. “I’m gonna brush my teeth and go to bed.”
Finishing with the bathroom he fills the bed closest to the window, readying headphones for an accompaniment to sleep. He rests on his side, facing away from me.
But I’m not ready to end our day. “Hey, DJ, you mind if we keep the shades open?”
He turns to face me. “Sure, Dad. Whatever you want.”
And earbuds in place he returns to face the window.
I wonder what he hears but don’t ask.
Finishing in the bathroom I sit on the edge of my bed and watch as my son falls asleep. He remains on his side, his profile forming a triangle as slender hips lead to broad shoulders under crisp white sheets.
I jump into my bed. Propping myself up, I look from DJ to the lights of flickering Time Square and back to DJ. The process repeats for some time as I stave off sleep with memories of our day.
But memories begin to slip as the day fades into darkness.
Silence quiets remaining sounds as I begin to float.
And sensing opportunity, sleep takes charge. She holds my hand in hers. Pressing the palm of my hand to her cheek she sings a lullaby in a long-lost language.
My heartbeat slows as I realize the end is near.
I don’t want to leave this place.
Momentarily, I doze. Then, startling silence, I call out, “Let me stay…”
With sleep singing softly, silence lets loose a noiseless gasp. And in that moment, clicks and vibrations and little noises sneak forward. From the street below the deep rumblings of a passing truck interrupt sleep’s ancient lullaby.
I whisper into the darkness, “I don’t wanna leave…”
Across the darkness my son snores softly.
Concluding her song, sleep asks a final question. “Leave where, my precious?”
In response she raises eyebrows high. She smiles before whispering, “Good night.”
Silence takes me in her arms, rocking me slowly. She breathes deep, enjoying the lingering scent of concert smoke and diner coffee and New York City. She looks to sleep and smiles.
Returning her friend’s smile, sleep softly strokes my forehead. Her hand lingers as she whispers to her friend. “Did you hear that? This one says he’s in heaven.”
Without a sound silence nods, content to enjoy the moment.
Light drains from the room.
And in the swelling darkness silence stares. Her lips part as if tempted to speak.
Then, catching herself, she shakes her head. Releasing me, she sits straight and gathers her composure. She smooths jet black hair before wiping the moment’s beauty from her eyes.
Seeing her friend struggle, sleep nods knowingly. As I begin to snore she juts her chin toward me.
“You don’t have to say a word, my friend. For I too wonder if it’s true. Can it be we’ve been witness to something divine? That he really did spend this day in heaven?”
Her question goes unanswered.
And a day far away comes to an end as silence kisses me goodnight.