My little boy has never met his mother.
There was time when my world felt tragic. It seemed full of suffering and bad endings. I got overcome with the sadness of it all on certain occasions, sometimes unexpectedly. All things end badly, I thought.
So naturally, at first, the fact that my son had no Mommy was hard to bear. But I was wrong, as it turned out. Surely it is a hard thing to lose a mother; to know a mother, and have to her taken away, leaves an empty place, and heartache. But Zander never knew there was anything missing. He had me, his Daddy, and I was all he’d ever known. As far as he knew that was sufficient.
There were, of course, “incidents.”
For instance, there was Ed and Mary’s wedding. Ed is my brother’s wife’s brother. He and Mary had been dating for many years while Ed lived in his parents’ house and worked at a succession of honorable but menial jobs, distracting himself by obsessively buying large numbers of rhythm-and-blues CDs. I don’t remember where the wedding was. Chicagoland, that great neverending sprawl that surrounds the great metropolis, seems all very much of a piece to me, a vast grid of potholed streets lined with one and two-story buildings, vaguely old and variously seedy storefronts overhung with signs suspended from elaborate metal brackets. One block looks much like another to me, and they go on forever.
We drove and drove, me in the driver’s seat of our green Dodge Neon, Zander ensconced in his carseat in the middle of the back seat where the books said it was safest. The reception took place in a large hall with high ceilings and bad lighting, and although I never have a good time around large numbers of people, I got some enjoyment out of it, because I like Ed and Mary. Zander, age four, had a blast, tearing around all over everywhere with his same-age cousin David until his shirttails came out and his carefully-tied tie came undone. My job was to establish a visual about once every ninety seconds, which was only difficult when the boys disappeared under the banquet tables.
We arrived at the party in daylight and departed in darkness. After his exertions at the ballroom he was very quiet, until I thought maybe he’d fallen asleep. Then from the back came a voice clear and strong:
“I don’t want you to get married. It's okay for Ed and Mary, but not for you. Daddy, are you ever going to get married?”
“Well, I don’t know, Z.” Long pause. “Maybe I will someday.”
“Well, I don’t want you to! Don’t ever get married. You can’t!”
So right away, I, with my dark cast of mind, always armchair psychologizing, went looking for deep meaning. Is he afraid of losing my love if I have a wife to love? Is he worried that a stepmother wouldn’t love him enough? “Zander, I’ll ask you first, okay? If I ever get married I’ll make sure it’s somebody you like.”
“I’ll never get married unless it’s okay with you.”
“Well, then never get married, because it’s never okay with me!” he said fiercely.
I brooded about it until we reached our condo, on a slightly less anonymous Chicagoland block. Park the car, unhook the kid, upstairs in the elevator—all my dark thoughts having subsided, by then, into a troubled, low-grade confusion. Finally, as I was tucking him into his big-boy bed, jammies on and teeth brushed, I learned a lesson again that I had to keep learning over and over through the years: just ask. Zander is an open and honest guy, forthright and straightforward: if you want to know something, ask, and he’ll answer.
“Zandie, can you tell me why you never want me to get married?”
“Uh-huh.” His voice had that sleepy, satisfied sound of a tired-out kid settling into a warm, familiar bed. “Because of all that stuff everybody said about having lots of children. If you had lots more children,” he continued—logic impeccable as usual—“I'd have to share my toys with all of them, and then there wouldn't be enough left for me.” He sighed. “And I like having lots of toys. Goodnight, Daddy.”
Goodnight, kiddo. Love you.