Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nuclear Baby

I don’t have any babies, but I have nightmares about misplacing one. In the dream, I’ll suddenly remember I had a baby many months before, but I can’t remember where I put it, so I’ll look high and low until I find it hidden under a bed. I’ll pull it out and it’ll smile, then morph into a tall dusty baby who walks and talks well beyond its achievement milestones. Not only have I missed the baby altogether, I’ve missed its first tooth, first word and first steps. My forgotten baby never seems any the worse for having spent its first speed-growing months under a bed without food or water or clean clothes, no human contact of any kind. It is loving me and talking up a storm as it marches around, smiling a big toothy grin as the dust bunnies fall from its full head of hair. It is a nuclear baby, able to withstand the edgiest of infancies, and it’s ready to spend the rest of its life with me no matter what I did or didn’t do so far.

No surprise then that in real life, I have cats instead of babies. One of them, Sara, has unusually long legs and a small head. Sometimes when I’m in the kitchen, I’ll pull out a top drawer and her face will be in it, staring up at me with her large green eyes. She gets herself into this pickle by climbing into the drawer from the back, and is then unable to get out. This morning I rounded a corner to see Sara hurrying down the hallway with an empty box of Kleenex stuck on her head, and I laughed for the first time in days.

I put a box on my head once. It was the last year I went trick or treating, even though I should have called it quits the year before. I was in sixth grade and my best friend Michelle and I decided we’d go as a two-headed alien. My family had just gotten a new refrigerator so we were all set for the body, and two smaller boxes for our twin heads were easy to find. We taped everything together. Two armholes, two neck holes and two eye holes later we were almost complete, but not before jabbing two metal clothes hangers into the box tops for antennas. We taped a garbage bag on the front: FEED ME.

Since we only had one small eye hole apiece, the neighborhood was hard to navigate, but we made it. We shouted “Trick or Treat!” at each new household, secretly glad that our identities were hidden. We chatted about babysitting jobs and junior high coming up as we toddled down the sidewalks between groups of children, trying to maintain our balance. At one nicely-kept house with the porch light on, we once again lurched up to the bell. The door swung open and we shouted “Trick or Treat!” into the chiseled face of the blond-haired eighth-grade boy I’d had a secret crush on for three years. “Hi Katie, hi Michelle, how ya doin’?” he said. “My mom’s makin’ me answer the door. Want some candy? Here ya go. See ya later.” Slam.

Those were no wonder years, baby. Those were the years that turned girls into stony-faced men.

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