Children, Growing Up

Seven Turns This Way

He turns seven. He is not alone in this. The weekend is endless pinball flash and spinning light. Too many parties. Cookie dough ice cream. Pokemon legends raining down on a tumid Chima lego metropolis. Deforestation at the borders. A relentless hunger for more and more.
For three nights, sleep is drawn and quartered. Whole symphonies of yelling smash their percussive chords against each distended limit. Love is squeezed down in its most elemental form: the exigency of coexistence in the absence of affection.
Finally, Sunday carries night over and drops it at our feet. Everything is half-done but somehow complete. He falls away from me during the third book and I recall the shape of ease for the first time in days.
Now I must find my own way under perseveration’s cruel echo. In bed, I kick and kick against the spooling film, all blooper reel and captured sin, the worst lines caught on repeat in the projector’s teeth. Eventually the bulb burns through and cuts me loose. I dive with one last surge and I am under, finally confined to sleep if not by peace at least by the simple pressure of submersion.
Wailing wrenches me back to the surface. I choke on my own breath. He is silhouetted in the door, wracked with sobs.
“Oh, baby, what’s the matter?”
He careens over the carpet and plows into the bed. “My back. My back!” Then his voice shatters. I open my arms. He climbs up and folds fetal into me, quaking with a fear made corporal. He is no longer a baffling, windburnt stretch of leg and scar and huff. He sheds all seven of his years. He is the night following the day he was born, completely undone by something for which he has no name, completely trusting me to make him safe.
I touch his spine seeking warmth or blood or bumps. A stingray? A troll? There it is. A flat plate, stiff and certainly not skin. I lift his shirt and peel off the alien invader.
“Sweetie, look.” I hold it up in whatever line of sight the dim night allows.
“What is it?” he says.
“A Pokemon card.”
He reaches up for it. A soon as it is in his grip, he shivers down to stillness. “Oh.” He pulls the card in like a baby blanket and curls his arms around it.
“I think your back was a little sweaty and you rolled over on it.”
“No,” he says with a drooping sigh. “I wasn’t hot. He was the one who was sweaty.”
“He who?”
“The Pokemon,” he tells me. “From fighting all night long.”
“That could do it.” I nudge him up and we plod back to his room. He asks me to cuddle there. His mattress is a candy-floss cloud compared to mine and so I agree. “Yes, but just for a few minutes.”
“A few long minutes,” He says. “As many minutes as you can.” We pull up the tinkerbell blanket and he tucks my hand in under his side. I settle in close to him. I stay until he drifts off and then linger a few minutes more, at least until turning, turning the way he does, he turns back into his years and there is no room for me.

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