Friday, November 12, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Don’t Even Have a Name

Lita sank into serene exhaustion. He couldn't read her - she looked happy and in more pain than he'd ever felt. Part of it was the drugs, but he couldn't even tell if she was asleep. JC drew the curtains to her room and closed the door as quietly as he could, seeing himself out to the hall.

A nurse waited for him, wearing actual candystripers. He didn’t know anyone did that anymore. She pointed a pink fingernail to the adjacent room, then held up four fingers.

Four minutes.

He bowed his head.

The curtains in this room were open to a sunset illuminating triangular clouds, like upside down piles of gold. In the middle of the bed, on top of the sheets, his newborn son twitched his legs. He wore a sky blue knitted cap to warm his hairless head. His eyelids were pink and his face was lumpy, like a fleshy potato. JC hoped nobody said he looked like his father, at least not for a while.

He reached out and pinched one of his son’s feet. It was wrapped in a booty, sent by Lita’s mother. The old bat would be here tomorrow with boxes of gifts and questions about christening.

“You know you don’t even have a name yet?”

His son didn’t seem to know. He waved a tiny hand over the sheets, exploring what cotton felt like. JC did the same, letting his hand drift to his baby’s. Eventually his son grasped onto his middle finger. He was warm and squishy, a little like the wet towels they gave you in first class. JC looked at the little hand. The fingers encompassed the first digit of his finger, and a little more.

“Look at how big your hand is. You could play sports. Wouldn’t even need a baseball mitt.”

His son pursed his face. JC tried to mimic it, but only felt his cheeks contort. Adults puckered their lips; babies, it seemed, could pucker their entire heads.

“Be careful. If you’re a ball player, they’ll hate you.”

With his spare hand, JC drew a chair to the bedside. His boy kept holding on.

“No matter what you do, they will hate you. Be a star for the Red Sox, and New York will hate you. Be a star for the Yankees and the rest of the country will hate you. Be president and the other party will hate you, and a year later you won’t have done enough and your own party will join them. Write the next Great Gatsby and people will call you pretentious. Write the next Lord of the Rings and people will call you a dreamer. I know a guy who hates firemen. Firefighters. Says they get too much respect since 9/11, since they mostly sit around the station. Even if you make a thing that gets a lot of respect, some people will hate you just for that. I hate that guy that made Apple, just because. Reflexively.”

The pile of golden clouds drifted out of view. Now all he saw were three red flashing lights, some airplane headed somewhere. He thought the boy’s eyes were following them. Exploring what planes looked like.

“You can play ball if you want,” he assured. “Play a game I don’t like. Let me hate you, but you’ve got to overcome it. Don’t let other people’s disapproval stop you. If you do you’ll spend every weekend wanting something you can’t find the place to buy. You’ll wind up somewhere – if you’re lucky, somewhere safe. Your mom and I will still love you. But you’ll wind up some place that doesn’t do. You’ll be a chef somewhere, and one night a couple will come in, frowning, ordering expensive stuff that doesn’t please them, arguing in hushed barks. You won’t be able to smile for them. Nobody changes that couple’s night, but you can change yourself despite them, in place of them. If you can’t, that’s when you know too many others got in place of you. Then, the best you can do is do better by your children.”

His boy pinched his finger, then let it go. Now he tried holding onto the blankets.

“You can make beds for a living if you really want.” He assured again. This did not win back his baby boy’s attention. “If anybody hates you for what you love?”

He almost cussed. Then he remembered reading somewhere that kids didn’t understand anything you said, only the tone. So he leaned down to his son’s face. Their noses brushed together in an Eskimo kiss. His son only looked puzzled, perhaps curious what eyebrows were.

“If anybody does, I’ll fucking hate them back for you so you don’t have to waste the time.”

The candystriper nurse entered in his peripheral vision. He lingered another moment before turning his boy over, from one cradle of arms to another. Watching them depart to the nursery, he entertained letting the boy grow up and pick his own name. That was probably too far. He'd talk it over with Lita, whenever she felt rested.


  1. So captures parenthood. Loved the father's character and tone and the sentiments were spot on. The advice about everyone hating him and the turnaround on that at the end struck a chord and so did the detail of the srunched up frown.The title is just lovely. My eldest son's birthday today and my youngest at the weekend so a good time for me to read.

  2. Such a beautiful, wistful story (and so deep, so introspective) about a newborn, coming from someone who always complains loudly about children. Your description of the light in the child's bedroom is gorgeous.

  3. Very deep and sentimental. I like the layers of the father's thoughts as he gets to know his son.

  4. yes, I'll go with Laura and agree to the sentiment with just a hint of resentment..can't be nothing it seems if we live for others approval..

  5. "...triangular clouds, like upside down piles of gold." I love that description John. But I especially love the honesty in this. It takes a strong man to tell his child the truth. You portrayed his emotions well.

  6. This is quite a departure from your normal fare but very well done.

  7. Very deep this one John, It certainly is true, whatever a person does will not meet everyone's approval, and from birth we are learning this. Nicely written.

  8. The first meeting of father and son is always more bizarre than words can capture.

  9. What a beautiful story, John. The first quiet moment you get with your newborn child is such an amazing experience. The weight of making their lives better than yours hits you all at once. Fantastic job giving us a glimpse into this private rite of passage between a father and his son.

  10. Fatherhood is a challenging experience, but one I embrace wholeheartedly. You've captured that sense of pride, hope, almost desperation of a new father.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  11. Nice piece, but bygawds -- you're sounding literary!JK. Very tender story. Peace...

  12. Excellent story! The father's words were perfect, and the description of the newborn also perfect.

  13. Beautiful and tender story, John. Great job - nice to see something with so much depth from you without losing the humor. I like the idea of allowing his son to choose his name, though I'm sure his wife won't agree. :)

  14. Very nice piece, John. Sentimental but not maudlin. Left a warm spot in my heart.

  15. Alison, happy to strike a few of your chords. Please wish your boy happy birthday for me!

    Cathy, make no mistake: I still hate children. Hate them, hate them, hate them. They smell, they're noisy, greedy, generally unpleasant to experience. I'm just... writing things. Yeah. That's the ticket.

    Laura, Tony and Adam, glad you folks enjoyed my take on it. I've never experienced it, likely never will, but got stuck with the idea one night.

    Mr. Solender, you think we are always something so long as we look for approval, or that this is Dad's underlying feeling?

    Deanna, it's my pet description in this one. Almost cut it but couldn't let it go...

    Gany and Steve, I endeavor to experiment. Can't have all the same stuff, right?

    Danni, "rite of passage?" Is this more common than I thought? I should have done research and talked to some dads.

    Linda, I don't mind being literary from time to time. There are great literary works, and while I'm not chasing them, there is a fertile ground there. Do you mind it?

    Eric, I think I can settle for perfection. Thanks man!

    Vandamir, did I manage to keep the sense of humor? That's a relief.

    JM, I don't mind sentimentality, myself, at least not on principle.

  16. You sure you don't have any little Wiswell's running around. Wonderful piece...

  17. You described that moment with a lot of insight. Some real gems there...

    "...a sunset illuminating triangular clouds, like upside down piles of gold."

    "The pile of golden clouds drifted out of view."

    The man displays a lot of negativity at the world but one hopes that his child will help temper that a bit. An excellent story, John.

  18. A poignant moment between a new father and his newborn. And I understand the Title. My wife and I waited to see both of our children before we finally settled on a name for each. Good stuff.

  19. Brilliant, spot on sentiments of the first meeting of father and son. took me back to the first time I saw mine, and how i look at him each time he surprises me with something new and I think of all the things he might be. Very Well done!

  20. Very well done, John. And insightfully accurate. Loved it!

  21. Congratulations on the Pushcart award, John!

  22. First off, WAY TO GO on the Pushcart nomination! That's just fucking awesome.

    this flash is beautiful; I particularly love the whole 'they'll hate you' paragraph. It's a humor that's bruised from hard lessons learned, and it's so sadly true.

    And congratulations on the Pushcart!

  23. Oh and by the way, I hate you for that nomination.


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