Wonder 56

When it hits, it hits. Tia Berry, Mãe, and then Pai all passed on within a week of each other. I’ve seen that happen with patients before: all the elders in a generation pass within the same time period.

What’s left for the kids who are left behind?

For that’s how I feel, though I’m an adult and father myself: I feel like an abandoned kid.

If it weren’t for Tanner, I’d be alone in the world, no matter how many friends I have.


I’ve been trying to save my grieving for after Tanner’s gone to school.

When he’s home, I’m focused on him.


He’s been so sweet.

He told me the other day that we had something in common, only backwards.

“I started out an orphan, and now I got a family. You started out with a family, and now you’re an orphan. Same but different.”


“But not entirely the same,” I told him, “for I’ve still got a family. Same one you’ve got.”

“Yeah,” he said, and he smiled.


“It feels like peanut butter and jelly when you got a family, right, Dad?” He’d always called me Chaz before. I had to step into the kitchen for a moment to hold onto the counter, breathe, and let go of a few tears.


I came back to the living room with a cup of coffee, and I sat on the floor next to the drawing table. I leaned against the wall, hitched my knees up, and watched him work.

We could hear his crayon scratching on the paper, and he was humming a little tune.


“For sure this is a picture of a monster,” he said. “Think it’s scary? It’s scary. But it’s not scary like something that will eat you. It’s scary like something that you think you better not look at, or else, you know. Stone. You’re turned to stone.”


“Did you hear about Medusa and Perseus in school, Tanner?”

“Naw,” he replied. “Oh, I know all about Medusa. But this ain’t her. This is her sister Megaluna. She only comes to orphans. When it’s all dark, and then you think you better not look, then she comes. And orphan hearts go stony. But there’s a trick. You look anyway. Then she’s not scary, you’re heart stays soft, and when she goes away, there’s no monster anymore.”


After Tanner left for school, I found myself staring down my own Megaluna. It was too late. My heart was solid stone. I couldn’t even cry, and all I felt was a block inside where all my feelings should be rushing through me. I had a long day ahead while my boy was at school to try to find some way to slew this monster grief.


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Wonder 55


“What did you think of the party?” I asked Tanner while we were cleaning up after the guests left.

“It’s all right,” he said. “But this is better.”

“What, cleaning up is better than eating cake and dancing and playing games?”

“Yeah,” he said. “‘Cause now I don’t have to be around all those dopey people who take up all the room. It’s just you and me.”


I thought for a moment. This is home now, me and this kid, my boy, Tanner.

When I was a little kid, I was happiest at home, with Mãe and Tia Berry. It didn’t matter what we did. As long as we were at home together, I was happy.


“What do you want to do tomorrow?” I asked him. “It’s Sunday. No school.”

“Play video games!” he said. “I’m gonna earn high score.”


We got up early the next morning. I’d set up a spare computer in the study, so while I was doing some writing, he was playing around online.

He kept me laughing with his running commentary.


“So this one guitar met another guitar and it said, ‘How far can a guitar git?’ and the other guitar said, ‘I dunno. How far can a guitar git?’ ‘It can’t get far cuz it’s got tar!’ Get it?”

I didn’t, but it had me laughing all the same.


We took a break from computers, and Tanner put on a puppet show.

“So how far can a guitar git?” the girl puppet asked. I guess he really liked that joke.

“Not far! It’s raining tar!”


Since I’m writing mostly kids books these days, I figure it’s good experience for me to be exposed to what children think is funny.

I’ve been too sophisticated with my humor, I realized! That’s why my books aren’t selling yet–too much scientific information stuck inside an adventurer’s hat. Next kids’ story I write, we’re filling it with humor, and everything gets Tanner-tested first!


In the afternoon, a friend dropped by.

“I hear you’re a dad now,” she said. “That was sudden.”

I know it’s sudden. Everything’s sudden.

“It might’ve been sudden, but it wasn’t rash,” I said. I don’t think she bought it.


After she left, Tanner and I ate supper, and then I read Treasure Island to him. I hadn’t read this novel since I was kid myself. Reading it to Tanner brought a triple pleasure: I got to enjoy my own memories of the story as a child, plus enjoy it now with my adult comprehension, and enjoy it through Tanner’s eyes.We were both hanging on every word.


After Tanner went to bed, Sonia called. She said she’d been thinking of me. It had been so long since she and I went out that one time, that I’d even pretty much forgotten about our one date. Besides my life had changed.

But she kept insisting we meet up at the diner.

“Tanner’s asleep,” she said. “He doesn’t need you when he’s asleep. Plus you need to have your own life, too. Studies show that it’s healthiest for children when their parents have their own social lives, so that they don’t try to live through their children. You’ll be back before he knows you’re gone!  Just get Elsa to look in on him. Please? I’d really like to see you.”

I told her I’d let her know. I called Elsa, and she said she’d be happy to stay with him while I went out. She agreed that with Sonia that it’s best for children when their parents don’t try to fill all their social needs through them.

“Did Sonia put you up to this?” I asked.

“I’ll be right over,” she said, and she hung up.

So I hopped on the ferry and took the tram to the diner. I was glad when I got there, for Bria and her date were there.

Bria looked well. Since we’d identified her hypoglycemia, she’s been on a careful regime of diet, exercise, and rest, and it seems to be working.


“I’m so glad you asked me to come here!” I told Sonia. “Thank you! I always feel cheered when I see patients out and about, doing well and enjoying life!”

“Uh-huh,” said Sonia, suddenly interested in her menu.


In a lucky stroke, Bria and her date were seated at the table right next to ours.

“Is this kismet, or what?” I said.

Bria laughed. I don’t recall what Sonia said.


“This is nice,” I told Sonia. “The veggie burger is done perfectly. And how’s your quiche?”

“My quiche is pretty darn tasty,” she replied.


I got a funny feeling at that moment. I remembered how I felt at the moment when I learned that Tia Berry had passed. For some reason I can’t explain, just at that moment I heard a swooshing sound and felt something untie inside of me and release. It wasn’t necessarily an unpleasant sensation. But it wasn’t a happy one, either.


Being a new father, I thought maybe my sudden unease had something to do with Tanner. When I called home, Elsa said he was sleeping soundly.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t stay.

“I’ve got to go home,” I told Sonia. “If I leave now, I’ll be able to catch the next ferry.”

She started to ask questions, but I told her I’d fill her in later, once I understood what had happened.

“Bye, Bria!” I told my friend and patient at the next table. “Always so great to see you, and especially great to see you in the bloom of health!”


It wasn’t until the next morning when a neighbor called that I found the source of my unease. Mãe had passed on in her sleep.

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Wonder 53

It was the morning after the day my life changed: the day I lost my tia and gained my son.

In the kitchen, while I was washing up the dishes, I looked across, and there sat Tanner, the same little boy I’d met at the clinic the day before, a few hours before I got the phone call from Pai that crashed my world.


He sat there with a huge smile on his face, looking up towards the ceiling.


“What are you thinking?” I asked as I joined him at the table.

“I was just… I don’t know how to explain,” he said.

“That’s OK,” I said. “You don’t have to. You don’t need to tell me everything.”

“No, it’s not that,” he said. “I want to say, but I don’t have words to say. You know how you feel like when you’re on your last life on level 9 and you’re really close to high score, but you’re facing about ten monsters between you and level 10, and you really should have died, but then somehow, boom-boom-boom, you get through, and the bells go off, and it’s high score, and you’re like, ‘Man! I should’ve died!’? It’s sort of like that.”

“You mean like gratitude?” I say.

“What’s gratitude?” he asks.

“It’s the feeling of thank you.”

He thinks for a minute.


“Yeah,” he says. “Like that.”

And I felt it, too. I felt, first, that open-heart feeling of raw grief, and into that open heart rushed tenderness and after that, gratitude.

We invited Mãe and Pai to visit. I worried when I called that it was too soon. But Mãe said she didn’t want to wait. She wanted to meet her grandson.

She managed a smile when she came, and I put on my brightest face. But I could see how worn she was.


“You know I’ve dreamed of this,” she said.

“I know, Mãe,” I replied.


And then Tanner ran out, and Mãe smiled a real smile.

“So this is the boy,” she said.

“I’m Tanner!” he shouted.


“What should I call you?” he asked.

I explained that I’d called my grandparents avó and avô, and he laughed. “I’ll have an avo sandwich,” he said.


Mãe suggested, “You could call me Grandma, but my name is Mae. How about if you call me Grandmae?”

I chuckled. “You’ve got the best name!”


“Do you play chess, Grandmae?”

She’d thought he’d never ask.


Pai wandered up from the beach.

Minha família,” he said. He was all smiles.


We sat and remembered my first visit to this island home, when Pai brought me here to meet meus avós.

“I was about Tanner’s age,” I reminded Pai, “and the island felt like something out of a pirate adventure book!”

“Are there really pirates here?” Tanner asked.


I headed inside to make lunch, and when I looked back over my shoulder at them, I caught Mãe‘s face, unaware. Her eyes were puffy and tired, likely from a night of crying. She looked so drained, it hurt me to see her.


I was about to head back to try to say something, when Pai spoke to her, and she raised her hands and smiled, full of love. I don’t know what he said.


But I could see that it brought her back to this afternoon in the sun, with her new grandchild. I felt at that moment that I hadn’t rushed things. Or that, even if I had, it was for the best. She got to meet her grandson. Minha mãe got to spend an afternoon with the three rapazes in her life: her man, her son, and her grandson.


After they left, Tanner went inside to play games on the computer. I took a swim, and then painted.

As I fit together the swathes of color, I thought about the composition of the whole, made of all the shades, of course, but also made of shapes that intertwine, like emotions.

I can’t be blamed if I rush things. I want to fit it all in, while I can.


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