The sun is hovering just below the blue tint at the top of the windshield and there’s glare. I’m moving thirty under the speed limit. No way am I going sixty. The drivers behind me honk and shout slurs at whatever race they think my driving entails, but I’m not speeding up. My kid’s in the car, and he gets nauseous at high speeds. Nauseous at low speeds too, little knucklehead. I love him more than life itself.
Picture two nieces and an aunt, playing “monkey in the middle” with the skull of their great-great-grandfather.
Picture a divorce in reverse.
April always called it a windscreen. London talk. I used to make fun of her for that, back when things were easy. We don’t talk much anymore. Our lawyers talk all the time, though. They’ve really hit it off. I think they’re seeing each other on the side, but I don’t really mind. Love is love. It ebbs and flows.
Picture a baby with a flip phone.
Picture a little girl on a swingset, patiently teaching her father how to lie.
This morning I packed up and left. Fifty miles down the road I heard a gurgle from the backseat. It was Levi, that little stowaway. He loves his dad, can’t blame him, but now I’ve got to drive him back. Back to a home that isn’t my home. I’ve got to drive him back to April so I can drive away from her again. Waze says I will get there in 35 minutes. I don’t want to get there.
Picture an upside down family tree, where you can be your own boss and sell dietary supplements on your own schedule.
It might surprise you to know that I have a kid, but it’s not actually that weird. I’m 29 years old, took eight gap years to retroactively protest the Vietnam War. During that time, I met April and had three beautiful children: Winston, Levi, and Beezus. Fast forward to now, and I’m pretending to be a Zoomer at some rinky-dink college magazine. Beezus is a biter, Levi’s a creep, and Winston is “a pleasure to have in class.”
April hasn’t changed a bit. I don’t think I’ve changed either, but I guess April would disagree.
Picture two sets of triplets falling in love with three sets of twins.
Picture a married couple, cooing over a crib filled to the brim with twenty-dollar bills.
This is the Family Values Issue. The need for it should be apparent. The American family is a crumbling institution. Gone are the days when Papa could drink rubbing alcohol by a roaring fire while the kids fought with steak knives and Mama dry sobbed in the parlor. Now, things are fractured. People meet people, accidents happen, wives hit it off with jerks from the bait and tackle shop. Things break.
Picture a Thanksgiving breakfast.
Picture a picture of a family that you can’t really picture, not anymore.
The cars want to pass me, but I’m in the left lane and there’s a sixteen wheeler to the right. We’re driving at the same speed. Every few minutes I crane my neck to try and make eye contact with the guy chugging away at a liter of Coke Zero in the driver’s seat, but his eyes are always locked on the road. I admire his professionalism and don’t take it personally.
Picture half a mother double adopting a child who’s already hers.
Actually that one doesn’t make sense. Picture a normal niece.
Last week, I caught Beezus with a cigarette in her mouth. I sat her down and made her watch me smoke the whole pack.
Picture a gaggle of scary uncles, gleefully casting bets at an underground nephew-fighting ring.
Picture the oldest baby you’ve ever seen.
“Dad, I’m a frog on a lily pad.” I glance at my rearview mirror and see that Levi has wedged himself deep between the leather cushions of the back seat, wrapped tightly in seatbelts torn from their anchors in the ceiling and the floor. The seams which bind the cushions to the seats have popped, and it’s clear that it’ll take a good twenty minutes to extricate Levi when we finally make it to April’s for the dropoff. Knucklehead. I don’t have any energy left, so I chuckle and say, “That’s right, kiddo.”
Picture a husband without a wife, a father without a son, a man on a rock in a void with no plan, no job, no prospects.
Picture Homer Simpson with a gun in his hand and sin on his mind.
Privately, I don’t think it’s right. I think it’s wrong that my kid likes tying himself up in impossibly tight spaces and then wriggling like a worm on a hook. I think it’s wrong that my ex-wife won’t look me in the eye, except when she’s calling me a coward, in which case she refuses to not look me in the eye. I think it’s wrong that Judge Willoughby was put on our case even though he plays bridge with April’s cousin. I think $3000 a month of alimony is wrong. I think it’s wrong that the world is wrong, that I’m right in a wrong world that makes my rightness wrong and April’s wrongness right. Wrong wrong wrong.
Picture a man staring down the barrel of his fourth decade on earth, on the long road back to his lost love’s home because his creepy kid crawled into the backseat there’s no room for a kid where he’s going.
Picture a fool trying to fit a rectangular magazine into a human-shaped hole in his heart.
Levi ribbits quietly and thrashes against his bonds. He makes my heart so full. My heart will only be full on weekends now. Twice a month.