Like Building A Church

In your third month we buy a manger at Babies R’ Us. 

“Some Assembly Required,” you read on the box. 

“That could be stamped on the side of you too,” I say. We both laugh. The college kid dollying the box smiles like he’s indulging his parents. 

Elton John’s “Your Song” plays above on the store speakers. “That’s your song,” I say. 

You wag a finger. “No. That’s your song.”

It’s an old joke. Instead of vows, I sang “Your Song” at our wedding. I turn to the kid in the blue vest and say, “Actually, it’s our song,” hoping he’ll ask so I can tell the story. But he gives me that smile again, so I say, “You know, Elton John?”

“Who?” he says. 

We look so middle aged. The high school cashier asks if this is our first grandchild. It’s a valid question. You’re barely showing. We laugh so hard you have a coughing fit.

The country is splitting like an atom. We give ourselves permission to step off the front lines for a while. “Raising the next generation,” you say, “is the best resistance.” 

We have a lot of reading to do, and the tiny apartment needs work. Like priests, we study the sacred texts, The Sears Baby Book, What To Expect When You’re Expecting. I intone A. A. Milne and Shel Silverstein verses through your skin. Like novices, we prepare for the arrival. I never noticed baseboards or molding before; now I bless grout with Lysol and dust the backs of fan blades. I create a playlist, 18 covers of “Your Song” and you add a couple piano covers that sound like hymns. You want to see each day arrive, so we take down the drapes and string gauze curtains across the windows. I’m more concerned about the nights, 3 AM feedings and diaper changes, so I replace the on/off switch with a round dimmer, light for all occasions. 

In your sixth month, our pediatrician hears a murmur and runs a few tests. “Don’t worry,” she says, “It’s just routine.” That’s the longest week of our lives. The tests come back and we’re told everything is fine. You spend the rest of the day in the baby room, sitting in the new rocker, looping your playlist. You look like a painting against the pastel walls.

I have an epiphany at work: one day, our child will be a consumer. I look at each ad as if selling to that vulnerable individual. My copy takes on a different tone. I start pushing for more creative solutions, innovative ways to make our campaigns find the truth in each product. “Less sizzle,” I say, getting old school, “more steak.” The creative director loves it, not because it’s true, but because it’ll reach the elusive Ethical Consumer market.

I’ll get six weeks paternity leave at 55% salary. That’ll be tight, but fathers miss so much as it is, I don’t want to miss this. Circling your due date, I count into the future. I’ll have to go back on September 1, like a kid going back to school.

By your eighth month, everyone wants to contribute to the miracle. They tithe freezer meals and fuzzy socks and Starbucks cards. Your mom tries to take over, but this time we’re in the driver’s seat. Our pediatrician runs some additional tests. “Just routine,” she says.

My parents and I talk for the first time in five years. I always thought they were conservative but open-minded, until I married a woman with Arabian skin. Now dad cries on the phone and I hear myself forgiving him. He’s seventy-two and he’s crying to his son. It’s a holy thing, witnessing how one generation gives place to another, the way power and even love shifts. 

The country is going off the rails. The President sounds like a disgruntled Yelper on Twitter, and both sides of Congress constantly prove they’re the last people who should be in charge. I sign dozens of online petitions and make small contributions to save everything from voting rights to school lunches to DACA. The future feels longer now. We make a commitment to raise a respectful radical.

I’m alone in the living room when our pediatrician calls. Another epiphany: knees really do go weak. As I sit down, she makes it real by giving it a name. “Potential Ventricular Septal Defect.” In layman’s terms, a hole in the heart. We’ll have to wait until the baby is born to determine the size: a small hole can be left alone and may even heal itself; a large hole needs to be repaired. That word, in this context, sounds sacrilegious. I think of the phrase, “Some Assembly Required” and feel a canyon of possibilities split my mind.

I don’t know how to tell you. You’re in the pastel sanctuary. I hear you on the monitor, rocking, breathing, rocking, breathing, a faraway piano playing our song.

About the author

Charles Duffie is a writer working in the Los Angeles area. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review of Books, So It Goes (The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library), Anastamos, Bacopa Literary Review, Prime Number Magazine, Exposition Review, Heavy Feather Review, FlashBack Fiction, and American Fiction by New Rivers Press.

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