Tonight at dinner Timmy said, "Everything looks crooked."
I asked him to explain what he meant by crooked, and he held his hand out horizontally to show me. "Instead of being like this," he said, his hand level in midair, "they're like this." He tilted his hand at an angle. He looked around the room at all the horizontal lines: table edges, picture frames, windowsills.
I wonder if he can see a straight line. I can't see a line and tell if it's straight, so I have no way of knowing what he's seeing.
If I write what's happening now, it might make me feel better, right? The 5-year-old is refusing to go to sleep, and it's making me incredibly anxious.
There's something about nighttime that he hates, that revs him up, into high gear. He gets into his sister's bed and does I don't know what until she starts screaming and mommy comes to break it up. He needs a drink of water, which he is permitted. He gets spoken to in a calm, insistent voice. He protests. Mommy leaves, closes the door. Click.
He screams, he shouts, actually, over and over: "A-ni-mal!" Pause. "A-ni-mal!" He listens for a response. "A-ni-mal!" He wants a specific stuffed animal. He's not going to get it tonight. I don't know why.
He gets up, runs downstairs in a flash. He negotiates, refuses, demands, tries to cry (but there's nothing to cry about, so he can't get himself worked up enough to produce tears). "No!" shouted as loud as a grownup. Mommy keeps telling, explaining, admonishing. Back to bed, but now he's laughing all the way up the stairs. Wide awake. Revved up.
The door clicks shut. Mommy stands just outside the door, head bent, listening. Surely he can hear her listening. After a while the floorboards creak as she shifts her weight to leave.
He's back downstairs. Protesting, not frantic, not desperate exactly. But insistent. More talking. Pleading. Insisting. "I'm scared." Of what I don't know. I can't hear most of the words, really, just the puncturing volume of them.
All I know is, this is not a procedure that works for him. Or me. But once it has ended, his mother seems able to forget that it ever happened. So it happens over and over and over again. At least three or four times a week. I've just started keeping track.
Downstairs, upstairs. Downstairs, upstairs. It lasts for about 45 minutes this time. Then, inexplicably, silence. The music is on now (why wasn't it before?). Beethoven. Satie.
When I was five my parents would fight so loud at 2 a.m. they'd wake me. I'd listen, barely breathing, to shouting and a sound that I recognized as the sound of hitting. A hand hitting a body. Sometimes terrifying silence. Struggling. One or both of them falling down. Thuds. I couldn't tell who was winning. I hoped it was Mom. Dad's drunken, cracked-voice curses and name-calling: Whore. Mom yelling, I can't remember what: You're hurting me, George.
Remembering me back then makes my eyes sting and blur over with tears. I can see the infinite blackness of my room: black contours in a palpable black space. I can feel the panic of certainty that I would wake up in the morning and find my mother dead. The feeling wrapped around me like a cocoon.
This 5-year-old will wake up tomorrow morning and his father really will be dead. It makes me wonder if all childhoods are the same.