Friday, May 23, 2008

Dreams of My Children, Part 8

Right after he was born, people talked about how much he resembled me. I thought, huh? How could anyone think that this baby, this squinting, pink little thing that threw up all the time, resemble any adult, let alone me?

When he was a little older, going off to school, people didn't let up. They'd look through our snapshots and say, "No doubt whose boy this is." It just puzzled me. I looked at his long blond hair and his chubby cheeks and saw a stranger - an adorable stranger - but not me.

He grew, as all kids, as fast as corn. He was getting bigger and changing in other ways, too. But he was his own person, unique. He resembled no one else on this planet, except, possibly, his mother, and maybe his sister, just a little.

"He is you," said my wife. "He has your legs."
My own father would say, "He reminds me so much of you at that age." I couldn't imagine why; not until just the other day, that is.

His high school soccer team was playing on the field in the valley, and the late afternoon sunlight burned through the tops of the trees and into the faces of the spectators on the east side of the field. I held my hand up to my brow and squinted in the direction of the players. The back-lighting made silhouettes of them so that it was difficult to tell one from another. After the game, when the kids lines up for the obligatory hand slaps, I walked out on the field to tell the boy that he had played a good game. (I was proud that he had a chance to play at all.) I stepped into the shadow of the hillside and, without having to squint and shade my eyes, saw everything clearly for the first time.

I yelled his name and he turned, somewhat startled to see me. That's when it happened.
Suddenly, I was looking at myself through some sort of time-warp mirror. I realized that his hair had become darker and that he had put on some muscle, and he moved just the way I did, and still do. His uniform was grass-stained and damp, his face and hair speckled with mud.

All the sensations of my own playing days came streaming back: the sweat and the chill, the metallic taste of exhaustion, the sore shins, the ache and weakness left in limbs that adrenaline leaves behind, and the exhilaration. Through all of this, I managed to yell to him, "Good game!"
"Sure, thanks," he said, a little out of breath, before trotting off to the other side of the field with his teammates.

For the first time, I saw him as a part of me. I watched him laughing and horsing around with his friends and I felt a part of it, as if he were a vital organ of mine attached by long, invisible nerves.

Lately, I've been looking in the mirror and seeing my father's face instead of my own. It makes me feel as if I'm on a downhill slide to the grave. But knowing now that I have actually left my mark on this earth makes that descent less treacherous.
He is my flesh and blood.

- October 1988


Anonymous said...

Simply an amazing story, as a father it touched my very soul. Thank you Park for reprinting this column. You have captured the story of the human condition, our lives and our deaths all into less than a thousand words. A monumental achievement.

Normally a harsh critic

Park Burroughs said...

It's been so long that I hardly remember writing these columns; it's as if I'm also reading them for the first time.
I do appreciate your kind words. These posts are a good deal less than 1,000 words, though, because I've pared down the originals, attempting to reduce them, like sauce on a stove top, to their essence. As they say, brevity is the soul of wit.