Published on July 15th, 2017 | by Elizabeth Newdom3
The sun is sinking outside the window. My son, Asher, and his friends run screaming. It’s just an ordinary evening.
One of the boys is holding a fake machete. Imagine “Friday the 13th,” and you have a good visual of the blade’s enormity. Of course, this one is made of rubber and has fake blood stained into its blunt edge. But up close, the toy looks real enough to make me shudder, just a bit.
My son is only 6, but the neighborhood clan is mostly fifth and sixth grade boys. I have no idea why a child of 6 is fun for 11- and 12-year-olds, but they seem to enjoy Asher. If I had to guess, he has just enough knowledge of Star Wars and loves just enough about spooky ghost tales to pass the muster. Plus, he’s kind and agreeable. He’ll go along with someone else’s plan, if he must. “Alrriiiggghht,” I can hear him saying.
I worried about these older boys at first. I mean, we only just moved onto the block a few months ago. In full disclosure, I have spent much time lingering behind the curtain panel while clutching a pot holder. But I’ve been spying long enough now to see the extra care taken when slicing my son’s head off. When it’s Asher’s turn, they deliver the blow so gingerly.
Years ago, I began waking in the wee hours to the sound of a blood curdling scream. The first time it happened, my husband leapt up and posed for a karate kick, within seconds. While I sat in bed sweating, heart beating madly. When my brain finally emerged from the fuzzy cotton of sleep, I became aware it was me. “I’m sorry,” I stumbled. “I screamed in my sleep,” I said, licking dry lips.
I can’t count the number of times I have woken up like this since I have been married. And I have no idea if I did this before my husband swore to love and cherish me his whole life. Maybe it’s the fear of it being taken from me. This life.
When I was five or six, a teacher asked me to draw a picture of something that would break my heart. So as the daughter of a surgeon, I drew a life-like version of an actual heart, and next to the right chamber in barely legible crayon, I wrote, “If my parents got divorced,” a telling indication of my home life.
In fact, our house was more like an operating room, cold and sterile. My mother and I, the attendants in latex gloves, awaiting instructions on when to hand dad his next scalpel.
By the summer after third grade, dad and mom sat my brother and me down to tell us dad was moving out. On the day he left, I watched our family’s wood-paneled station wagon, packed with my father and all of his necessary possessions, grow smaller until it dissolved into the horizon. As he drove away, I recall thinking, ‘I guess he is actually leaving,’ with a sort of practical, stoic resolve.
If I’d been close to my father, perhaps I would have felt differently, but because of the strained silence that seemed to envelop him when we were alone, I never really knew the man, which only compounded my sense of abandon. There was always just an absence where he was supposed to be, a likely reason why I never had a Ken doll for any of my Barbies. Or why I threw away the rock my first boyfriend had given me during homeroom with Mrs. Conner. Or why it took close to three decades for me to cut out a greeting-card shaped heart from construction paper to give to a man I was dating.
It’s been nine years now since my wedding day, and I still wake up to nightmarish scenarios where I wander landscapes, foreign and familiar, trying to reach a destination before time runs out, before the storm clouds come to suck me away. I am often alone in the cold and sterile darkness of my car’s interior, trying to find my way without a map. Trying to call my husband, who doesn’t answer.
You could say, that in my dreams I am running scared, from a life I can’t believe is truly mine.
“It’s time for dinner!,” I yell to a pack of boys fully engaged in a barbaric, yet civil, war. “Asshheeerrr!”
It takes one more loud shout to pull him toward me. He’s looking for his gun now or missing bullets perhaps. Next, he is inside, cheeks the color of roses, hands raw and cold. Dressed in a tiny shell of a jacket on a February evening.
“I heard you guys screaming,” I say inquisitively. “Were you really scared?”
“No,” he says. “Not me, Mom. I knew the knife wasn’t real.”