The following is the fourth excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, The 10 Minute Time Machine – a story of wreckage, renewal, and redemption. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.
My son just walked by me on his way to breakfast, in the way adolescents do: that early morning shuffle resembling pop-culture depictions of zombies. In his brainless search for food, he was greeted by what all teenagers likely loathe: a smiling, beaming, over-the-top-happy-in-the-morning parent. “Good morning, son!” Replied to with a barely audible “Morning.” Followed by my “I love you!” Reciprocated with a curt “Love you too.”
Mornings are now my favourite time with the kids. Well, one of many favourite times. I used to loathe mornings when we were a nuclear family. Hangovers or withdrawals aside, it was always this stressful – if not the most stressful – part of the day: a rush to get four people awake and ready to face the world. Off to jobs we weren’t (or at least I wasn’t) passionate about to pay for lives we couldn’t afford, taking children to day-cares so we could manage jobs we didn’t want, all in a life we didn’t feel connected to. It was all executed with resentment and pain and fatigue and sorrow… sorrow over a life un-lived. An accidental happening. Life happening to us, instead of living with purpose.
Perhaps ironically, I was always the first to wake up in those days. This was never a result of an affinity towards mornings; it was a feeble attempt at control. During the active drinking days I needed to survey for any indicators left behind – which, while I rarely left obvious evidence, was still something I wasn’t going to risk. As I’ve written in earlier chapters, one’s admittance to the Professional Liar’s Club comes with stringent measures to be enacted with rigorous discipline. Scouring for crime-scene detritus aside, I also needed that time before interaction with the other humans of the household. A hot shower and non-alcoholic beverage down my throat, in an attempt to bring me back to life and be ready to face anyone. Though I was never truly ready.
Much like the 8-10 evening hours were my escape, my days began in complete opposition: a couple of frenzied hours full of frustration and loathing. It was always strained and stressed trying to get out the door, and my kids (if not my wife) bore the brunt of my frustration. I probably couldn’t have done a more effective job of sending them out into each day feeling like they had failed somehow, that they weren’t worthy, that being a kid and taking time and making mistakes (that weren’t really mistakes at all) were unforgivable. I couldn’t have made better work of letting them know every little move and word from their little bodies and minds wasn’t living up to standard. As a result, I couldn’t have failed them more.
Despite all the memories of those years that I’ve lost, I’m profoundly grateful for a clear recollection that has remained: when my son started walking independently for the first time. This was during the chapter when my wife still worked evenings and I was on day shift, so we traded off at around 5 p.m. every day. It was just him and me, and for a time, those hours were prosaic and peaceful. I’d get prepped for the next day – there was even a period where despite active addiction, I was disciplined about getting to the gym the following morning before work; I was trying to set myself up for at least a brief recovery into the day via exercise, nutrition, and hydration. (It was never going to be sustainable, as nothing is in the world of the addict – other than the commitment to the addiction itself.)
After arranging my gym bag and clothes, I’d prepare some form of mashed dinner for the boy. We’d have bath-time, story-time, bottle, bedtime. On this particular night, I remember I was prepping his swaddling blanket, PJ’s, and final diaper change in my bedroom, and I had left him playing with toys in the living room. When it came to crawling, I could always hear him coming – the thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap of bare hands and knees on laminate flooring – but this time I heard nothing while I arranged the last of the rituals.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw this little vision appear, a couple feet off the ground. This little toddler had crept around the corner in that seemingly drunken, wobbly walk new perambulators have. He made it a couple feet into the doorway of the bedroom – every step taken with painstaking care and stern concentration – and turned his head to look at me, while his little body teetered below him. With a grin as wide as he had ever displayed on his little round face and mostly bald head, he seemed to say “Look what I did, Dad, I’m just like you!”
And now that same boy, whom I robbed of so much in the intervening years from then to just a few ago, walks by me in the morning with those for-granted steps we all take, and I wonder how it all went by so fast. I wonder why I can’t go back, why time travel hasn’t been actualized, so I could spend more of those evenings trying not to rush through that static routine to get me to the once-coveted 8 p.m. hour. I long to go back and breathe in that Spring evening when I saw those first steps, and linger a while longer in the moment. To prolong bedtime, and watch him take a thousand more.
As for my daughter, well, I don’t even remember her first steps. I long for the time machine that will remedy that.
I wish I could have a thousand new mornings. To not rush them out the door. To take more time to hear their little voices, and little stories, and little insights into the world we shared. To delay a little bit – as long as they needed – getting out the door before sending them into the hands of people I don’t even remember, who spent more time with them in a day than I often did in a week. To hold off letting go, before heading to a job I hadn’t a care in the world for, in that life I had no interest in living.
I didn’t know that they were my life. I didn’t know those moments were life. I didn’t fully know – in anything beyond a cognitive, surface understanding – that those moments, in those forms, would never come again.
The closest I can get to the DeLorean I will likely never have is the time spent in – and my absolute love for – mornings now. Even if the kids, now 12 and 15, don’t quite share my enthusiasm. Sure, the time is easier, in that they dress and bath and feed themselves, but what I wouldn’t give to go back to some of that difficulty, if it could even be called that. I would love to pick them up out of a crib or bed they couldn’t get themselves free from. To hold them in my arms and be the shepherd of their world again. To give them a better world. To let them know that they were everything I ever needed, and not something to be endured, until I could leave them for the day or the hours at night.
Perhaps my favourite moment now, on any given day of every second week, is the ten seconds when I walk into their rooms as they’re still asleep, seeing the beautiful expressions on their sleeping faces – that part that seemingly hasn’t changed since they were babes. The moment I get to travel back to every morning, to gently put a hand on their shoulder, and bring them back to the world we’re going to share for one more day, together.
Thanks for dropping by, Dear Reader! Please feel free to follow along as I continue to post excerpts from this, and my novel Of Dreams & Angels. And posts on other random thoughts/experiences that come along. Glad to have you here!