In the hallway outside the bathroom, where it’s mostly dark, I almost fall over a pile of kid piss blankets. I guess Arle put them there when she was running late for work this morning. They reek. Kid piss reeks. They pull me in though since it’s only a matter of time now. Inevitably, even the juvenile stragglers who dream so hard and sleep so deep, they almost always stop peeing themselves.
I touch the fuzz of the Spiderman blanket. Cheap Walmart $10 job I bought for Piper when Arle first moved into the little bungalow out in the country. It was her first move towards us being together. Over a massive literal mountain and an even bigger figurative one, she hauled her stuff and her kids out of her birth valley and into my adopted one with every intention of us combining forces and moving in, all of us together/ all 7 of us, before long.
I gave the blanket to her son at a time when Spiderman was his main man. Now he could care less about that character. Super weird YouTube teenagers have replaced true superheroes for a lot of young people in America, Piper included. But here we go, you know? This blanket smelling like piss laying in the hallway of a home/ our home/ that wasn’t on anyone’s radar years ago when I gave it to him in hopes of softening the strange blow of moving away, at the age of 3, from the only true home he’d ever known.
I wanted him to like me, but we had a long way to go before that could happen. But this morning, my hands all up in this blanket, I know that we have come so far. He hits me now when he turns the corner and I’m there to jump scare him, but it’s pure love now, I suspect. He throws a hard right hook at my hip and he looks down into the floor/ into the abyss of a world he doesn’t always navigate super easily/ and he smirks a little but he’s also serious because I scared the shit out of him. And his punch lands as planned and it hurts more than it used to. The kid is growing, getting stronger. I look down into his short red hair and I catch his eyes flash up at me as he gives me the finger.
If he were at his other house, I’m guessing he’d be in big trouble if he flipped the bird. But here, what do I care? Me and Arle just watched Dopesick on Hulu. It made me desperate. It broke my heart for realizing what lurks up ahead for these kids of ours. I want them to live. I want them to survive and not die. I want Piper and Charlie to piss their goddamn beds for as long as they want to and I never hardly say a word, you know why?
Because every parent who has ever gotten a call/ fentanyl/ gone/ 22 years old/ 19 years old/ 27 years old/ 17 years old/ the world unpeeling around you/ the walls melting into themselves as the dogs begin to sense the heat coming off the disbelieving hurt of fire flaring up out of your skin/ your yelps/ your gasps for breath/ every one of those parents- including you if it was you/ including me if it were ever me- we would all give anything and everything to just hold one of our lost child’s piss blankets in our arms again.
In our fists. In our shaking fists. Up to our faces, raising it to our noses. Breathing it in, this scent of inside of them. This cold wet that was warm not long ago, shooting out of their sleeping bodies, spreading down into the nasty blankets that already smell like dog. Down into the old mattress where so much other old piss remains. Young boys sleeping on bygone levels of their own midnight accidents. If accidents is even the right word.
Unable to even begin to imagine the sense of loss, I stagger into this other mode of being present: me taking you for a tour of my day, I guess; me showing you this lump of messed-up blankets lying there unmissable in the hallway outside the bedroom doors. It isn’t everyday that you would hand a stranger one of your third-graders piss blankets to drag on like a joint at a summer bbq, but these are mad times.
The tragedy of devastation. The total and complete sense of absolute inner-collapse. It brings you to your knees, is my guess. And once that happens, you end up fucked up. You end up alone surrounded by others who want to help you but they just can’t. There is nothing anyone can do. They would just have to stand there and watch me sniffing the blanket if I had one. Dragging deep on the Spiderman blanket with all of its orange soda damp sop. Hard dreaming once upon a time and now there is no dreaming if the kid is gone. If the child is scratched out.
There is no one else around here this morning as I am getting ready to write and so no one can see me holding this fucking thing in my hands and imbibing it like it’s some kind of fresh loaf of bread or a thick hard cheese that came in a Christmas basket.
No one has died. I’m being weird again, I guess. Dramatic for the sense of something to write about. But at the same time, this is where I’m at a lot anymore. Turning away from the dude that wants to get his kids to straighten up and fly right. Gentle support and persistent persuasion would probably be what the experts would tell me if I had revealed that we’ve got a couple of elementary schoolers who are still watering the night garden on a regular basis. But I don’t care about that so much. I’m not as bothered by these goddamn bed messes as I know I ought to be. In a world of responsible parenting, guiding your kids towards proper behavior and all of that, I more or less suck at all that.
I’m too worn down. I’m pretty much over all of this jive, all of this thinking that parenting is some kind of test with actual answers and proven methods for successful achievement. A lot of what comes down with kids is random. Sure, they learn by osmosis and they are heavily heavily influenced by the environments they grow up in/ the people that they love and trust or simply see all the time. However, kids are also scattered to the wind in so many ways. Their fates are wildly loose and unknown. And what the hell can I really do about it?
Teach them right from wrong?
I guess. I mean, I can try at least.
Fortify their hearts with purity or some modernized version of it?
Push them easy to try to learn and grow and experience this life with open-minded empathy?
But what about all of those other times? What about the times like now when they are a dad down the line and they are sniffing the piss, exhausted to the bone, wondering what the hell the point of life is anyway? What then? My precious little boys. My dirty socks on the floor warriors. My sleeping babies. You guys will grow up, if you’re lucky, to be hairy and kind of gross. You will walk out of this marzipan skin of yours and across time your hues will go grey/ ashy/ maybe yellow with the drinking.
I hold up the Spiderman blanket and I touch it lightly to my tongue.
If a kid was gone, I would give anything to hold them one more time. To have just a few moments with them to let them know that I love them so much. I can’t imagine living on without you, I would say.
Then in a despondent attempt at revealing to this broken universe just how lost and sad I am, I would put this blanket into my mouth and bite down on it like a Friday night bacon cheese burger.
That is how things can get if we lose anyone. If our grief is so much more powerful than we ever suspected it could ever be.
That is how we can get, how I can get, in order to understand just how lucky and in love I am on a rainy early spring morning. With my box fans blowing, I write my way out to the ramshackle cabin on the outskirts of my sense of being. It is lonesome there. It is windy November. There are crows screaming. The air smells sour. Ripe. Bad vinegar metallic blood. The whole place smells like kid piss.
I hold it in my hands and worship it like a freak because I know who I am.
I know that I am seeing things that make sense to me. I know that I am caught out in the world without anchor/ with no faith as shelter and no stories to guide me home. I imagine a kid not being around so that I can love the kid more while they are.
It’s getting on 9 now. I have to write this all down before I forget it. I hope other people might know what I am trying to say. I hope some other people might think I’m on to something here with all of this crazy talk of imagined loss and the sharp tang of morning whazz floating down the hall.
I drop the blanket to the ground onto the heap of other sheets and blankets. They’re all pissed on, I figure. It’s going to be more than one load of laundry. I think about hauling it all downstairs to the washing machine but I don’t. I don’t even come close, if I’m being honest with you. I simply let the blanket flop down out of my arms and I head down the steps to put some coffee in my travel mug.
I feel connected to something as I descend.
My fingers smell like kid piss.
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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattlling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah.