Sometimes I get up early in the morning and sit in the big front window, waiting for my dad to come back from his run. When it’s foggy, I have to look really hard to see him. First his head, then his shoulders and finally all of him come out of the fog. I can see him breathing hard, his breath like a dragon.
I stand at the front door as he comes in holding the paper. His sweatshirt has a huge stain of his sweat like a big tongue, from his neck to his belly. Rrrriiippp, as he strips the rubber band off the paper and unfolds it. He smiles at me and leans over and kisses me on the head.
I follow him into the kitchen. I eat my cereal while he reads the sports page. When he’s done, he hands it to me. We do this every morning.
I am only 8 years old, but I see and hear and know things that adults don’t think I do. The call me precocious, but I don’t know what that means. I do know they usually wink and smile when they say it, so it must be good.
My dad wears jeans, sneakers, a sweatshirt and a baseball hat to work. My friend’s dads all drive nice cars and wear suits and ties. I see them get dropped off at school as I ride my bike up to the school yard every morning. Their dads don’t look happy. My dad kisses me and my mom every morning when he goes to work. He builds houses and drives a jeep.
When my dad and I play catch in the yard, Tyson, our big yellow dog always plays too. If I drop the ball, he pounces right on it and runs away with it. He turns, puts his big paws out in front of him, sticks his big tongue out, and puts his even bigger butt up into the air and drops the ball in front of him. He watches us. The ball is all spitty.
When I walk over to get it, just as I reach for it, he grabs it and runs away again. Dad always laughs.
Dad makes mom laugh. A lot. They kiss a lot, too. I think it’s kind of gross, all the kissing they do. I don’t really know what love means, but I hear them tell each other, all the time. Always followed by a kiss. Yuck. Except this one time. It was kinda cool.
Mom has this favorite song she plays really loud. So loud, Tyson runs upstairs and hides under my bed. It’s kinda a rap song, I guess. Not sure. I only understand some of it. “Where is the Love?” is what mom calls it. It’s got a cool beat. She told me the name of the people who sing it, and I laughed. The Black Eyed Peas. What a name for a music band. Yesterday, she was playing it while she was in the kitchen. It was a Saturday. Dad came in and they started to dance real slow. He put his hand on her butt. They were staring at each other. And then they kissed. I was around the corner, but I could see. They were swaying. Mom was thin and pretty again. I’d seen pictures before she had me, when she was pregnant, and after. She looks now like the before picture. When the song ended, they were still holding each other, and they kissed for a long time. For some reason, this time it wasn’t gross. It made me feel good.
I hear stories at school about other kids’ parents having fights. Mom and dad never fight. I think they love each other.
When Valentines Day comes around, sometime after Christmas, I think, dad always gets mom flowers and a gift. She does the same thing every time. Puts them in a long glass thing and sets them on the dinner table. Then she takes his hand and leads him to their bedroom. They always tell me to go play outside for an hour. I guess they needed a nap.
I asked my dad once if I could have a brother. He put his hand on my shoulder and we sat down together. He told me that he and mom were so happy with how I was turning out; they didn’t want to spoil their luck by having a second child. I thought that was smart.
When mom got sick, dad and I would visit her in the hospital every afternoon and night. Once we brought Tyson and snuck him by the crabby nurses. Mom didn’t look so good anymore, but dad still kissed her.
Mom was sick a long time. All dad would tell me was that she was not going to get better, and we had to love her and make sure she knew that we loved her. I sort of understood.
I would draw pictures for her, I would sign the cards dad bought for her. I would sit on her bed and lay my head on her stomach, trying not to mess up the tubes sticking in her body. She would rub my hair and once I caught her staring into space. She looked different. Like she didn’t want to be there.
When her friends would come visit, there usually was lots of crying. I would always go in the hallway. I remember feeling weird, because I didn’t know HOW to feel. Dad never cried.
Then one day, after a long talk with the doctor, dad took me and Tyson for a drive in his jeep. He talked to me about what dying was. He told me my mom was dying. He told me what that meant, for both of us.
That day I cried.
Mom’s been gone for over a year now. I’m almost ten years old. Dad still is building houses. He makes his own lunch now. He almost never smiles. Sometimes I see him fake one for me.
The kids have stopped looking strangely at me finally at school. I’m glad. One girl hugged me and said she was so sorry. It felt good. I understood dad and mom and their dancing a little better after that.
Dad doesn’t run anymore. Last Saturday, after fixing my own cereal, Tyson and I stood in front of dad’s door. I could hear him crying.
Tyson now sleeps on top of my bed when he’s scared.
No one has called me precocious in a long time.