Quarter past three in the morning, and the lightning and thunder were becoming more pronounced.
The front was moving through quickly. Though thunderstorms in Manhattan had always lulled me to sleep because of the comforting dissonance of fierce natural conditions unsuccessfully buffeting against whatever concrete bunker of an apartment I’d lived in, I had been awake since about 2:15. Three hours earlier, at about 11 p.m., I had been basically passing out in front of my computer. Not just falling asleep. Passing out. Fainting. It had been an intense work week with little sleep.
I figured I’d use the excuse of insomnia to be a conscientious parent and check upstairs on Teak, our 6-year-old who, as the youngest of our three sons, has always been the most skittish about foul weather. I knew his fear would set in soon, and he’d be paying Karen and me a visit in our bedroom, always going to the side of the bed that cares, while I continue dreaming about surfing or movie stars or eating fried catfish. Having walked up to the boys’ bedroom, which is the top floor of a brownstone and is paired only with a bathroom, I stood by his bed. Teak was already rustling under his covers, and he woke up, grabbing his taggie and “Gibber,” his stuffed furry marmoset. I rubbed his back and told him to go back to sleep.
He shook his head. His blonde hair stuck up in the back and a tuft swung from side to side. His thumb was predictably in his mouth.
“Are you scared of the thunder?” He nodded. “Let me pray for you.” He shook his head. “C’mon.” Downstairs, that is. He turned his body toward me to get out of his bed. His brothers were fast asleep.
As I carried him step by step down the wood stairs between the boys’ bedroom and the main floor—stairs that some person decided to paint black for maximum Potential Bodily Injury At 3:00 A.M.—he said, “The stairs are so blurry.” (“Blurry” is one word. “Not covered in my deductible,” are others.) I held him around my waist with my right arm as I felt along the wall with my left and looked down. I had held him now for six and a half years. He was still relatively light. When we walk somewhere outside—to church, to a fair, to a different playground that is farther from our local one fifty yards away—that is some unknown distance to him, I can put him on my shoulders and carry him for eight or ten blocks with no pain other than in my lats. He is too old for this luxury, really, but I make excuses for it. I am addicted to it, and Teak is my enabler. Now, on the stairs, as I try to comfort him and pat his right thigh with my free hand and feel his skin—(does he have goose bumps?)—I am reminded for the hundredth time that moments like these at 3:00 a.m. are numbered. There are ten more times, maybe twenty if I’m lucky. Summer thunderstorms will be gone in a month, and for all other needs, like when his covers have fallen off or when he is nauseated, he comes to his mother. We see him first at her bedside, and there is no carrying involved. In half a year, he’ll be 7.
He got into our bed, and as Karen went to the bathroom I lied down next to him and turned toward him spoon-like.
“Dad?” he whispered.
“What do tornados sound like?”