The Dude got his license this week and has been driving himself to various activities. Nothing too far or too stressful, for him. For me, it’s difficult to know that he’s out there on the road. I trust him. He’s a good driver. It’s all of the other idiots out there that worry me.
Part of my sadness, however, is knowing that he won’t need me to drive him around as much. Nothing gets the Dude talking more than a car ride.
“Don’t look at me!” he says, peeling his socks off his feet. He’s been running baseball drills in wet grass for the last three hours, and his team was caught in a torrential downpour. Now that he is done for the day, it is perfectly sunny.
Socks discarded, he wiggles his toes. His feet are white and pruney.
“DON”T LOOK AT MY FEET!” He says it with such vehemence, I say okay and turn on the car like I’ve been hijacked by the child mafia. “Move this car, lady, or you’ll be swimming with the goldfishes.” I ask him what is so terribly wrong with his feet that I can’t see them.
“I look like a cadaver.”
“How on earth do you know what a cadaver looks like. It’s not like you’ve seen one.” I realize I haven’t either.
“Yes I have. Crime shows always have dead people in that room with the table. They always focus on their feet while everyone else talks.”
The room with the table? “You mean the morgue?” I really need to pay more attention to what he’s watching on television.
“Yeah. The place with the drawers. I wonder if people ever sleep in there.”
Sometimes I wonder if I should be afraid of the thoughts he doesn’t share with me. He’s maturing in leaps and bounds. Between having a job and his motor-aided freedom, the traces of child are so much harder to see.
“The kids think they’re so smart, but they aren’t. I asked them which team plays at Fenway and they didn’t know.”
“We live in Virginia, Dude and they are eight years old. Cut them some slack.”
“I asked them who plays at Yankee Stadium, and they didn’t know that, either. They answer every question with the Nationals or Bryce Harper. Some kid knew the Tigers play at Comerica, though. That was really random. Kinda freaky, actually.”
Being a Godzilla-obsessed eight-year old was a lifetime ago for him. For me, it was just yesterday. I can still hear his voice, an octave higher, No Mom, that’s MechaGodzilla 2000.
At lunch, the camp counselors ask baseball trivia questions. Correct answers get you a baseball card. On Friday, the kids get to trump the counselors by bringing their own questions.
“You should hear the trivia questions they come up with.” This should be interesting.”Which pitcher holds the record for the highest number of strike outs in a single game without ever having won the Cy Young award.”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.”
I find this absolutely hilarious. He does not. It is the kind of thing he would have done–to find a way to outsmart the grownups, to beat us at our own game while making us love him even more at the same time.
He’s hungry, so he asks me to take him to McDonald’s. He’s stripped off his shirt, which is dripping wet. It joins his wet socks on the car floor. I order the food, and as we’re pulling up to the payment window, he starts to duck down in the front seat.
“I don’t want them to see me.” We’re back to that again? “I don’t have a shirt on. I look like an idiot.”
“Yes, by all means, duck. I’m sure that won’t make you look nearly as idiotic as just sitting there.” I tell him to sit up or I’m going to eat his french fries. “After all, you don’t want them calling the police about the crazy lady with the cadaver in her car.”
He doesn’t find this hilarious, either. At least he’s not willing to show it.
I remember half-day Thursdays in Boston when we’d get the car washed and get a Happy Meal. I know those days are gone, not that I miss the cheap plastic toys cluttering my car. Now it’s just water bottles and damp socks. He may be closer to man than child, but that child still holds my heart in his chubby fist. I know I need to say goodbye, but I’m not ready yet. I wonder how long I can withhold the car keys and keep him home with me.
I watch his face as he eats his first french fry, and I see it. The child is still in there, somewhere. For today, that’s enough. The memory will linger just like the scent of fast food in my car.
He catches me. “I thought I told you not to look at me.” But he holds out a french fry and smiles.
Just try to stop me.
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph “Wet Socks” by Brian Sahagun © May 2011 Creative Commons