A working vacation in San Francisco ended with me hobbled and limping for home. I enjoyed my visit, but pushed my tired, useless feet too far. The swelling pain in them left me unable to walk, clutching the walls of the airport terminal like they were lined with last breaths. I moved at a pace roughly half that of the old woman with the cane. I believe she savored the moment that I became a spot of dust in her rearview bifocals.
I bit my lip until it bled and watched as empty wheelchairs rolled by for patrons much more used to their need. I was sore with pride and stupidity.
I closed my eyes on the plane, knowing my heart waited somewhere forward. I am not one for leaving it behind.
Days later had me working from bed. My right foot as swollen as it could be without bursting like an overblown balloon. I am at the mercy of my family’s patience and kindness. It has put my exhausted wife further to her husband’s end.
Today was Valentine’s Day. We had no plans for romance. My wife was over it sometime between the kids and the constant rains. I was done when I realized that chocolate and flowers were not the same as foreplay. It is a day we enjoy better for the mocking.
My morning was spent sprawled across a mattress stuffing Disney trinkets into cartoon cards while my boys signed their names in an assembly line of chicken scratch. Their day was filled with candy and roses. Except that there was more candy where the flowers should be.
Tricia worked the night shift, and soon the afternoon was replaced by evening, and my wife was replaced by a hole in the room. The boys and I watched Finding Nemo, then sat on my bed and talked about cable cars and earthquakes. Zane shared thoughts on the protocol of Hallmark holidays. Atticus sang Black Bird in its entirety.
They were crawling from my bed to theirs when I said something about seeing my 4-year-old for the last time. That he’d be five come morning. It was supposed to build upon the excitement he’d been expressing for the better part of the last six months.
The only thing that built were the tears in his eyes.
“I don’t want to grow up,” he said. And with that he was tucked against me crying for all he was worth. His brother followed with equal tenderness and I found myself broken from heart to foot and covered in the tears of my children.
Explaining the meaning of bittersweet is just that.
Soft words soothed as only soft words can do, and tears gave way to warm cheeks pressed tightly upon the other. Plans were made for continued awe and so much wonder. Their pace grew slow and steady.
They fell asleep in my bed, wrapped in a hug of brotherly love. I sat at their side, beneath the glow of lights turned low, listening to a clock chime hours unknown, and watching my foot, willing it to explode.