Friday, August 23, 2013

Bajur bal Beskar'gam

People sometimes ask how it is being separated from Thayet and Meshparjai.  Not my favorite thing, I say.  Not the worst thing, I say.  I say that the necessity sort of crowds out other emotions.  All these things are true.  It is like going to work on the subway every day.  It is like going back to the knoll every morning and the studio twice a week to have a sword in my hand.  I don't tell them that it is a prison.  I don't tell them what it is also like.

I am working out of San Francisco this week.  This is not a vacation; I'm still going in to the office.  I am working east coast time, of course.  This makes my daily routine rise at 0400 for drill, be in the office at 0600, go to sleep at 2000.

I had a dream last night.  I was a sex slave in a townhouse run by three men.  My chief captor looks like Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder and is about as pleasant.  There are a lot of us held there, maybe two dozen.  I am one of the newer ones, new enough that despair has not yet overtaken the coldly furious need to split my captors' skulls.  I have been there long enough for it to feel normal, though.  We are let out of the house for errands and always trudge back.  I think to myself one day as a group of us - mostly women - trudge to the downstairs library (apparently the townhouse has a library) - that people will wonder why we don't just walk out the door one day and never return.  I observe with clinical detachment that the fact we don't means this has become our new normal.  And it is not so bad, I tell myself.  There is a couple here (in my dream they are played by friends) who were raised as slaves by another couple (played by the parents of a guy I havent seen since high school).

In the library there is a book that has a few pages hollowed out for a plastic milk cap and a sticky note on which is written the number for the local police station. This is our escape route.  Everybody knows about it.  Nobody takes it.  "Do you know how many calls like this they get each day?" asks one of the veteran women.  "Like 700.  And the penalty for trying is severe."  She says this with a glance upstairs.  I think about it for a long time.  The odds are very against me.  But I want to believe the police will come.  I have been raised to believe they will come.

In the end, I put the book back and trudge upstairs.  It isn't so bad here, I tell myself.  It is harrowing.

I wake up to Meshparjai screaming for me. "Dad!  Dad!"

It is late.  I stayed up late to watch Sesame Street with her (Elmo's Elfabet Challenge), then skipped morning drill to hold a sleeping Thayet for half an hour, and fell asleep with my arms around her.  I should have been on the train half an hour ago.

I hurry over to Meshparjai's room.  Last night we talked about how I would already be at work when she woke up.  She has been brave to stay in her bed like I told her to instead of running into our room.  "Yes, ad'ika? Daddy is late for work.  I need to take a shower and get ready to go."

She thinks about this.  Her bottom lip quivers.  "I'll come with you, " she declares.  This will slow me down.  I explain that Daddy needs to get ready to go very quickly.

She enunciates her response carefully.  She is using a formulation I have never heard her use before, and wants to be certain I understand.

"I just ... need to."

We head down the hall, and for a moment all other emotions are crowded out; she is filled with relief and happiness as only a fairy or toddler can be filled.  She chants, "I'm following you, Dad!"

The relief is ephemeral, as all such fillings must be.  In the bathroom she finds sunglasses and puts them on against the sudden brightness.  I throw myself into and out of the shower and find her curled up on the bathmat.  She struggles to her feet, determined not to miss anything I do.  I get dressed while Thayet slumbers, explaining to her what I am doing.  The concept of work is new to her, and I want to reinforce it. "These are the clothes Daddy is going to wear to work."  I debate saying I have to dress up for work.

"And that shirt?" she asks as I button my shirt.

"Yup," I say.  "This is the shirt I will wear to work."

"You look cool, Dad," she says with a big smile.

In the kitchen I explain that Daddy has to make breakfast and lunch because I will still be at work for lunch.  "But where will I be for dinner?"  She thinks but cannot remember or deduce.   "Home.  Home for dinner."

She has seen sandwiches before but is fascinated as I make mine.  "You put butter on the bread?" she asks.

Yup, the peanut butter goes on the bread.  And the jam goes on the other side.  Toddler mind blown.

We go back to the bathroom to collect my electronics.  I explain that, now that Daddy has his food packed, I have to pack my backpack.  She frowns at this and looks like she is fighting back tears.  She associates backpacks with trips, and she knows I am on a long trip somewhere far away from her.  I am not going on a trip. I promised I would tell her before I go back on my trip so it would not be a surprise.  I am going to work.  I place a veritable snake's nest of power cords into my backpack.  "See?  Daddy is going to take his backpack to work."  Oh.  That's beginning to be okay.

It's time to go.  I pull her onto my lap on the couch.  She is holding it together so far, and clearly tired, so I ask if she would like to go back to her own room to sleep.  "Yes," she says with a little wail, but it costs her something.  Her room is where she goes to be abandoned, a magical prison chamber from which she emerges to find parents missing.  She knows it is what I want to hear, though.  Her face begins to crumple.

I can't take it.  I've been trying to be quiet all morning because Thayet has been having trouble sleeping, joking in whispers with Meshparjai about not waking Mommy up, but for an instant all that flies out of my head.  I am not thinking about how a crying girl will probably wake my wife up just as I have to leave.  I only that my little girl is sad.  Ne'briikase.

"Or," I say, "you can sleep with Mommy, but you have to let her sleep."  (This concession has helped me recover my wits somewhat.)

She jumps at that.  "Okay," she sniffles.  I lead her back to the bedroom and help her into bed.  She tucks herself in, and I pull the covers up to her chin.  Thayet stirs.  "Remember," I whisper, "you have to let Mommy sleep."

"Okay," she says.  I can hear the dejectedness creeping into her voice.

"And where is Daddy going?"

She gets it now.  "To work!"  She has trouble forming the unfamiliar word, but she says it with a smile.

"And after work, where will I be?"

She thinks about that one.  She doesn't know.


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