Eleven

It’s an odd experience being face to face with a person you constantly called a shit-brained asshole and a greedy fuckwad behind closed doors. It’s even weirder when you are enjoying the moment.

When we were trying to buy our current house, we were in the middle of a major mess of balancing the whiny bullshit of our buyer with the stubborn refusals of our seller. This pulled us financially in both directions and it made for some really rough nights around the old homestead.

The guy who had the house we wanted refused to move on any of our demands, even those that were essentially issues of law. For example, we conducted a radon test, which makes sense given the limestone base out here and the depth of the basement. When the test came back at a higher-than-legal limit, we wrote into the final offer that they install a radon removal system.

He refused.

The same was true about the minor gas leak coming from the hot water heater, the mudjacking of unsafe concrete and the exterior venting of the bathroom exhaust fans.

It turned out, this wasn’t the guy or his wife, but rather his really shitty real-estate agent combined with our really weak one. Ours was a young woman with limited experience in the field and theirs was a end-of-the-road older guy who had no interest in selling and came from the time when calling women “sugar tits” was considered common office communication.

Eventually, it got ironed out and I was so grateful I’d never have to deal with these people again.

That is, until I found out they essentially moved two houses away. I kind of lost my mind and even when we got down to the final signing, I refused to sit in the room with them until after the paperwork was done.

What you learn about people during the time you review their home for purchase only tells you a small part of the story. The gun safe in the kitchen pantry, the “Terrorist hunting permit” on the refrigerator, the “bullet maker” in the basement and the locked upstairs office room all gave me pause. Then again, so did the IV unit hanging in the master bedroom.

What I found out later was that they were moving because their son, Jacob, had a rare form of cancer. The kid was about 5 or 6 years old and had been dealing with this all his life. Facebook updates on his progress were met by cheers when they went well and prayers when they did not. The sale of the house was in part for finances (they moved to a smaller, less expensive place) and part for physical reasons (they needed a single-story house as the steps were too much for the kid).

After the move, the dad and I would exchange waves as he drove past. Jacob and his folks occasionally showed up on our porch asking if we’d like to buy wreaths from his Boy Scout troop or a donation to a school program.

Eventually, he wound up in our driveway on one occasion when I was out fixing the car. He was wearing a Spider Man shirt and he had this incredible little smirky smile and thick, tinted Coke-Bottle glasses as he wondered if she’d like to come over and play for a while. There was about a three-year gap between them and she was still in the “boys are gross” stage, but she went.

She had a blast.

This led to a few play dates of the old-fashioned kind: She was bored and she went over and knocked on his door and asked if he’d like to play.

His mother later told me that whenever the doorbell rings, “Jacob prays that it’s her asking to play.”

About a month ago, she returned home with an invitation to his birthday party at the city pool.

Thus, I found myself face to face with his dad, talking about kids in a polite and civilized fashion I could never have previously imagined. Especially given the number of times I screamed that he must be a greed-based ass-fuck.

Apparently, being wrong is something I’ve gotten good at.

“So, is Jacob officially 8 yet?” I asked

“Oh yeah,” he said. “His birthday was a few months ago but we waited until now for the party because he wanted it at the pool. He made it.”

I’m not sure if he meant it the way I recalled it or if I’m reading too much into it, but of all the things said to me that day, his last words stuck in my head.

He made it.

As time continues to gather steam, pushing my child toward womanhood, I have found myself utterly resistant to these changes. My wife told me that the “tweens” are the worst, so I should be ready for two or three years of weird.

To this point, we’ve gotten it.

She vacillates between weeping and laughing, something my wife blames on hormonal changes.

Her friends talk about boy bands and lockers and so forth, as opposed to those days they argued about if iCarly was real.

I find it difficult sometimes doing the laundry, as I’m folding tiny bras into virtual pocket squares. Even more difficult is listening to the carpool chatter about which of the girls in their class is “the most flat-chested.” (Keep in mind that all of them are so poorly endowed, you could only measure cup size with a micrometer.)

Even the other day, as I was sleeping in my chair, she came down and woke me to let me know that I needed to go get some takeout for dinner.

“Mommy doesn’t feel well,” she said before putting on her “knowing” face and adding. “You know, Daddy, she’s on her… period.”

I’m sure that tiny pads and tampons will soon arrive in our house as will larger bras and a fixation with her hair. I’m a decent guy about all things like this, buying everything from tampons and Depends to nursing pads and whatever else the women in my life needed. Still, it’ll be harder knowing that she’s not my little girl any more.

And yet, it took that pool party for me to realize I shouldn’t be fighting this march of time but embracing it. The parents of this boy spent his whole life wondering if this would be the day their son’s life would end. I haven’t thought in those terms since the major ultrasound that let us know we hadn’t miscarried again.

He made it.

Three words that I’m sure they had to say over and over again.

Test after test.

Treatment after treatment.

Day after day.

He made it.

It never occurred to me once about when we should or shouldn’t hold my kid’s birthday party because she might not live long enough to get there. My biggest concerns are if the girls at school are bullying her or if one of the boys decides to take too big of an interest in her.

“She made it,” never once exited my lips with the same level of resolve and relief these people must have felt every day.

Every year around this time, I recall my kid’s life story: The miscarriage, the Ice Storm, the chaos surrounding her birth. After those opening lines, life is blur of birthday parties, Halloween costumes and summer vacations.

This year, for her 11th birthday, I’m putting more thought into valuing each and every day.

Maybe ice cream for dinner every so often. Maybe playing a game of cards with her more often when she asks. Maybe just telling her I love her an extra time or two.

As she continues to get older and has more of those life-altering questions that can’t be solved by a hug or a stuffed animal, I’ll also need to be ready to game up.

I don’t want to talk to my kid about sex any more than we already have or what to do when the movie “Mean Girls” basically becomes the living embodiment of her school. It’s hard enough to resist punching out some of the little twerps who pick on her now.

Each day can come with a new crisis, a deeper hurt or situation neither of us saw coming. I’m sure it will feel like we’re getting hit with a whole sack of hammers while falling down the stairs.

I try to think about Jacob as much as I can. I wonder how someone so small can deal with something so big on top of all the other garbage growing up throws at you.

But if he can find a way to make it, I’m sure we will too.

One thought on “Eleven

  1. kaleberg says:

    That’s a touching story. I especially like the framing. You never know sometimes.

    The daughter of a friend of mine has been going through something like that. She had some kind of congenital heart-lung problem that first put her on Viagra, then more powerful chemicals, and finally required a lung transplant. All the while it was touch and go. Her father had a union job with a good health plan, but he was nearing the life time limit. He was planning to quit his job and go work as a cook at the local prison to get a reset on his health insurance. Then along came Obama-care to remind us all that the personal can be political. His daughter is almost 18 now, a grown up, sort of, and in as good health as anyone with her condition can get. So far, at least, she made it.

    Liked by 1 person

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