I LEFT HIM in the building lobby with the last load of divorce stuff. This is my boy who hates being left alone. If his brother falls asleep first, you’ll be seeing him out of bed soon. It was midnight, our move-out deadline, and all kinds of things had gone wrong all day, all week—from the flooded kitchen, to the moving company sending a truck that was too small, to the lapses and errors of communication that worsened an already touchy month and left him with me that night when he wasn’t supposed to be.
“I have to get the van,” I said. The U-Haul van was in a parking lot a few blocks away. “I’m going to jog the whole way and be back as soon as I can.”
“Are you really going to jog? Why?”
“Because I know you don’t like this. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
I left at a run, with my iPad, so I could message his mom, from the Starbucks on Dyckman, that we were leaving and I would just keep him tonight. No Internet in the apartment anymore, and my phone was dead.
But the Starbucks was closed. Surprising, considering the huge-capacity nightclub down the street and the jumping row of bars right next to me. So I stood there for a minute on the corner of Broadway, with the heavy Alcohol Alley foot traffic blurring by me, and then turned the iPad on in case Starbucks left their WiFi on, and got signal and sent my message. But I couldn’t stick around to see if it was received. I knew he’d be at his limit, and I still had to get the van.
He couldn’t see me running to the garage, but I ran.
When I came back in, he was red-faced and holding back his tears. I remember the Hemingway story “A Day’s Wait” whenever a child visibly masters himself. There are things I love and admire about my children, but this is one thing I respect. To have a nine-year-old brain and prevail over fear? Holding back his tears? Mad respect.
HE HELPED ME load out. I propped the door with something heavy, and we organized and hauled and reorganized.
Am I being a big help? he asked as we passed each other.
You’re being a humongous help.
And on the next pass, I said: I want to tell you something. You’re not working like a boy, you’re working like a little man.
He LIT. UP.
Yeah, really. Tell you what. It’s midnight. We’re wiped out. Our new place is still an hour away. Make you a deal, you stay awake that whole time, I’ll split a beer with you when we get there.
Oh, you are SO ON.
Dad, because I worked like a little man?
Yeah. I’ll split a beer with you.
A BEER NOTE: He gets ONE SIP. ONE. ONE. A SIP not a GULP! ONE! whenever I have a beer and he happens to be around, which was a couple times a month and is now less frequent. They also get ceremonial quantities of wine on Jewish holidays. Split a beer means he gets about a tablespoon in one of my tiny sake glasses and I get the rest. So don’t write to me.
You’re not going to stay awake.
Oh, yes I am!
What makes you think that?
It’s midnight, you’re exhausted, and you’re nine.
WE SAT TRIPLY exhausted, grimy, and sweaty, in the idling van at the curb. I put it in gear but didn’t move out yet.
“You guys don’t like it when we use profanity, do you.”
“I don’t know. It makes us feel like we’re not safe.”
“What about damn?”
“Okay. Then I will just say: Let’s get the HECK outta here!”
I checked the mirror and waited for traffic. There was a pause.
“Well, what were you going to say?”
“Well, I was going to use the F-word.”
“Oh, THAT one’s okay!”
“Yeah! That doesn’t bother us. We’ve heard that a lot!”
“Well, then,” I said, looking at my son looking back at me, hesitating, both of us waiting to see if I’d do it. “Let’s get the FUCK outta here.”
He laughed. I laughed. Then he said excitedly:
“Can I say it?”
“ONE time. ONCE. You may say it ONCE. Not twice, not three times. ONE TIME.”
And he flung his arms up in the air and shouted, “WE’RE! FUCKING! DONE!”
Then he said, “Wow. That felt GOOD!”
“Dad, why does that feel so GOOD?” he asked on the highway to Connecticut.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I do not know.” And then added, “ONCE. ONE TIME. That was it.”
“You may not say it at school, you may not say it around Mom–“
AND BLASTED THE air conditioner to keep myself awake during the drive, so that my hands were in sharp pain by the time we got to our new home full of boxes. And split our beer.