Tag, You're It
“Alright, buddy,” I started, “you found me. I’m a zombie. Now go hide.”
I patted my seven-year-old son on the back as I turned and faced the wall, covering my eyes and began counting to twenty. My smile on my face transferred over to his face, and that was the last thing I saw before I began to count. I heard his giggles sprint into my bedroom.
“Eighteen, nineteen, twenty!” I finished, and then ran over to the living room. As I passed my bedroom, I heard a deceptive little chuckle. I searched for him frantically in the living room; I pushed the couch back, opened all the cabinets, and removed the pillows from their comfortable spots on the couch. But of course, I was searching for him in the wrong place.
I passed by my bedroom again, this time heading to the restroom. That deceptive chuckle ringed in my ears again. I searched the bathtub, under the sink, and I even flushed the toilet, knowing that my son would laugh hysterically at the sound of the toilet flushing.
Finally, I walked into my bedroom. The laughs faded. A big lump sat under the bedspread, and I lay on top of it. I heard a soft groan. “Now where could Diego be?”
Again, the little moan. I looked up at the blue ceiling, and mumbled, “I think I’m gonna take a nap.”
“No, Daddy! I’m under here, silly!” Diego cried, struggling to escape. I got off of him and pulled the bedspread off.
“THERE YOU ARE!” I roared as I lunged for his ribs and began to tickle him. He kicked and punched and laughed and grappled, but he couldn’t escape. “I’ve got you now!”
“No you don’t!” he shouted as he rocked back and kicked up, accidentally kicking my eye. He took that chance to run away. But before he left my room, he said, “Daddy, let’s play tag! You’re it!”
Rubbing my eye, I began to chase after him. He ran out into the backyard, where our dog (whom Diego named “Cat”) immediately pounced on top of him. Our dog, a golden retriever, was three or four times the size of Diego. The dog began to lick Diego’s face relentlessly, and I watched from inside, smiling. Diego eventually stood up, hopped on top of Cat, and began riding him like a horse.
“Hey, Diego,” I started as I stepped outside, “he’s not a horse; don’t ride him like one.”
“I know he’s not a horse! He’s a dinosaur!” Diego shouted with joy. “A trice-a trikatops-whatever it’s called!”
Diego was either confused about what Cat was, or, he had one big imagination.
Cat took Diego for a short stroll around the backyard. As I watched, the doorbell rang. “Mommy’s home!” I shouted. I wasn’t so sure if Diego had heard me. He was to busy riding his trikatops.
I rushed to the door and saw my wife struggling with two hundred bags of groceries. I quickly gave her a kiss on the lips and grabbed the grocery bags from her.
As I placed the last grocery bag on the table, my wife, Isabel, smiled at me. “So what did you and Diego do while I was gone?”
“Well, first, he played Super Mario. Then I showed him how to play chess. Then we ordered a pizza. Then we traveled to Rome, on the Discovery Channel of course. And then I became a zombie and he had to hide from me. And then he kicked me in the eye. And now he’s riding a trikatops.”
“A trikatops? Do you mean a triceratops?” she asked.
“We had some crazy adventure today, and you’re concerned about my pronunciation? ” I joked, reaching out for her hand.
“I love you,” she whispered, closing her eyes and crawling into my arms. I kissed her forehead and held her, looking at Diego through the kitchen window. Cat had just bumped him off, and Diego laughed like crazy. He tried mounting Cat again, but Cat just slobbered him.
Diego had his mother’s rosy cheeks and small nose, as well as her light brown eyes. But he had my big lips and his hair was like mine: a very light brown. The kid would turn eight in just a month, but it felt like just yesterday Isabel and I had celebrated his first birthday.
“Daddy,” Diego mumbled, as I tucked him into bed that night, “Tell me a story. About when you were small, like me. What was your Daddy like?”
I looked out the window and could not see a single star. I didn’t know what to say. I never had a Daddy. I had a biological father, sure. But a Daddy? No.
“Son, I’m tired. We had a long day,” I mumbled, thinking of what else I could say. “I’ll tell you a story tomorrow. I…I can’t remember one right now.”
“Aww, come on, Daddy! Please!” Diego cried, holding my hand. “Please?”
“Tomorrow, I promise.”
“Okay Daddy. But early in the morning. The very first thing you do tomorrow should be to tell me the story. You can’t even give Mommy a kiss until you tell me a story.”
I thought his request ridiculous (perhaps because it was so peculiar), but I nodded and then kissed Diego’s forehead. I walked slowly out of his room, and as I put my finger on the light switch, I thought about who I was, who my son was. If that boy lying on his Hot Wheels bed in his Spider-man pajamas in an air-conditioned room was the same boy lying on a dirt floor twenty years ago. I never had a bed.
“Isabel?” I murmured at four in the morning, hoping she would respond. I turned around to hold her, and kissed her hair.
“Yes?” she whispered, turning to face me. She looked beautiful even without her make-up.
“Diego asked me what my father was like as I tucked him into bed tonight.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“Well, he asked me to tell him a story, about my father. I told him I’d tell him tomorrow morning. I just don’t know if I should make a story up or tell him the truth.”
“Well darling, it’s up to you. You told your mother, before she passed away, that you would find a way to leave your horrid life, that you would find a way to say goodbye to all that. And you did. And your mom would be very proud of everything you did, if she was still around. Well, now that life is gone. You’re with me now, and Diego.”
She paused for a second, looked at the fan, and then continued, “it’s wonderful and everything, but one day…one day Diego is going to find some beautiful lady, get married, and begin to work. And we’ll be old and frail, and he’s gonna be providing for us. Just like you did for your mom. And perhaps, telling Diego the truth now will help him realize that one day, he’s gonna have to say goodbye.”
I stayed silent, just holding Isabel as close to me as possible.
I had said goodbye to my horrid life, my life of poverty, which consisted of manual labor. And by manual labor, I mean sticking my hands in a wealthy man’s pockets to get all the money I could find. A life of poverty, where I came home to a sick mother who couldn’t cook for me. A life of poverty, where I had no hot wheels bed or Spider-man pajamas.
Isabella looked up at the ceiling.
“I don’t really know what I just said; I’m tired. You do what you feel is right. You’ll be able to tell him with time.”
A tear rolled down my cheek. I did not want to let go of Isabel.
“Look at me,” she said, placing her soft hand on my face. “Kiss me.”
The tears stopped as I looked at her. I smiled and said, “No. I told Diego the first thing I’d do this morning is tell him a story, even before I kissed you.”
I got out of bed, a large smile on both my face and Isabel’s, and strolled silently over to Diego’s room.
Now, I was really going to say goodbye to my life of hiding. I was gonna tell Diego the truth. About how letting go of some things makes rooms for newer ones, for better ones. I woke him up, and as I did, I smiled. I was it, and I was gonna tag Diego now.