When my daughter came home from childcare the other day, she responded to my outstretched arms in the same way she did to seeing her own shit in the bath the night before: with a piercing scream, and the desperate clutching of mummy.
This was my fault.
There was a heavy thump on the porch that morning, a sound to which I’ve become acutely sensitive. In lockdown, I’m a starved and sorry animal, desperate for the slight endorphin jabs of the ‘Buy’ button and the corresponding sound of the postie.
I jogged to the door and found a large box contained within an even larger sack. It was, I’d assumed, the extension tracks, bridges and carriages I’d bought for my daughter’s train set.
I hid this oddly large package in the bedroom, knowing there was no time to open and enjoy it with my daughter before I wheeled her to childcare. But as I did, I told her this: ‘There is a very special surprise for you when you come home’.
When I got home, I began excitedly opening the package in preparation for my daughter’s return. Given its size and gratuitous reinforcement, this took about 20 minutes with both paring knife and scissors. After I’d severed the multiple clip-ties, slashed the obsessive binding of plumber’s tape, and tossed aside the crumpled hillocks of paper, I’d finally liberated the contents: three used books, purchased from Philadelphia two months ago, and which I’d given up hope of receiving.
Goddamn it. I’ve pulled a few swifties on my two-year-old daughter, but I knew there was no way that she could be persuaded that old anthologies of sports writing had anything to do with trains. And so, when she returned home and saw my outstretched arms, I think she saw someone about to make an awful confession.
And she was right.
The playgrounds are closed again, possum, and you’ll never see the Great Barrier Reef. Daddy’s tired and perceives time now as a thick streak of oil trailing distantly behind him. I’m not sure when you’ll see your grandparents again, and yet I can’t summon any anger at the folks who had that engagement party—I don’t like that they had it, baby, but my capacity for reactive fury seems exhausted now—replaced with some kind of worn, sympathetic resignation. Maybe that will change tomorrow.
I have no idea what your future looks like—only a vague conviction it’ll be worse than mine. But I’ll be in it, and I’m trying hard to mind my influence on it now. How strange to be born in 2019. How strange to be born at all.
You don’t know it, but I keep thinking of attachment theory and mystic chords, my cheeky monkey, and trying not to sever them with fear and impatience. But I’ve learnt some things, and intuitively trust the importance of affection – even in these times of pronounced claustrophobia. I kiss you, I kiss you, I kiss you.
I have only one memory of each of my grandfathers, my angel, and none of my grandmothers. One is walking to church with him and gagging on the sacramental bread, and of the other, a meeting in his small, sun-bleached apartment across from the golf course where he once scored a hole-in-one. I was maybe three years older than you are now, and the subsequent and incomprehensible violence was punctuated by a slammed door. I never saw him again.
It won’t be like that with you. I’m trying hard to bend my history a little in your favour. You don’t know this, but times are weird and testing now, but please know that I know that the big thing is not making small psychic bruises on your soft tissue.
It’s strange writing this, knowing that my flawed efforts are not something you can explicitly comprehend, or will even remember—but wordlessly know and will carry into your future. You’re absorbent, as I was absorbent, as we were all absorbent.
I hope the train package arrives soon, my rose-cheeked chicken. I want to help assemble some winding tracks with you—in lockdown, and beyond it.