Happy Birthday

by Nicholas Dighiera | Marking the breathless passage of time.

Happy Birthday

Today is my older son’s fifteenth birthday, and while he’s at school, possibly in his foods class, preparing mac and cheese, I’m sitting in this coffeeshop in Fruita, Colorado, waiting for school to let out so I can pick him up, and I’m remembering about five years ago when I arrived late one evening to this town, their town, it being their town because I don’t live here, haven’t lived here, and never will live here, in this shithole town, this constant suicidal contemplation town, having flown in from Europe, where I was working, to spend a long weekend with them, staying in a hotel and driving around a rental car, doing brodies in gravel parking lots for kicks, us living like this because I had divorced their mother a few years prior and she’d done the reasonable thing after that and taken them to Fruita, where her parents lived, because she wanted help as a newly minted single mom, something she had never wanted to be, which I’d forced upon her, but, back to the memory of my late arrival, all the restaurants were closed except one, and I hadn’t eaten yet, so I’m sitting with these two boys and eating at the local Taco Bell and trying to hide the fact that I’m crying because in between their laughing and fighting over the little bits of plastic-like cheese falling from my tacos, they are singing the jingles from TV commercials they would have never seen on my watch as a parent, but no, I threw my family away for a piece of pussy, as my former wife would say, which is not quite true—what I threw my family away for was a chance at a better life, so really, she, the other woman, was just an excuse, an open door, a magic carpet, and these fucking tacos are cold and falling apart and the boys are smiling and giggling and those smiles transport me back even further, to the last day we lived together, in Alaska, before they moved, the boys six and three years old at that time, two skinny little kids with voices like cartoon characters, when I say to them, “I’m not going to live with you anymore,” and they nod and smile, and I have one hand on each of their shoulders and I can see they have no idea what’s about to happen, that I’ve fucked reality right out of their lives and the weight of that is hanging right above them, it just hasn’t fallen yet, and fast forward to a month later and I’m Skyping with them from my work computer and we cry and cry, the only words said are I love you I love you I love you, it being so traumatic that their mother closes the chat until they can recover and call back so they can ask me to come live with them, to stay, to be better than I really am, but I don’t come back, I never come back, thus I become the monster that I never wanted to be, so I retreat from those memories, putting them back into the place where I found them, pulling the little cheese bits back from the boys’ mouths and spreading them back onto my food, vacuuming up the words from Alaska and rebottling them to put up in the cupboard we never look in, unplaying the commercial jingles and getting back into the plane to fly in reverse to Europe, and now, outside those memories, I’m back here in this shithole town, in the coffeeshop, as stated, and it’s about the time for my older boy to get out of school, and I want him to be small again so I can redo this life with him, hold his tiny little hand and walk down the sidewalk seeing the world through his eyes, to try again, in a way that shows sacrifice and not selfish behavior, but we can’t time travel, can we, and we can’t rewind, so I’m going to get up and put this computer away and drive to the dead-end street a block from his school, where I will wait for that beautiful boy to walk over to my van, in his ragged sweatpants, because he will never wear jeans, and his stupid hoodie packed with pencils and candy and homework, and his goofy fucking smile and his floppy-ass brown hair that his mom wants him to cut and his weirdly full mustache and the asymmetrical nose I gave him and his slight, hunched posture, loping along, and when he gets to the van I’ll want to say I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry and lay myself before him, prostrate, seeking forgiveness that he’s already given a million times, knowing it’s really me who can’t forgive myself, and I’ll want to lay there and wait for him to cure me, to lay his hands on me like Jesus or the Dalai Lama or Bones from Star Trek, but instead of that, he’ll walk up to me with a big, toothy grin, and I’ll say, “I love you, buddy; happy fifteenth birthday.”

Nicholas Dighiera’s writing has appeared in River Teeth, Under the Gum Tree, the Sun, Catamaran, and elsewhere. He strives to put more love into this world with his writing; a map to his published works can be found at nicholasdighiera.com.

This essay is a Short Reads original.

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