"Oh yeah," she said when I brought up the subject of silver medals, "that's a totally real thing."
"And I have to tell you, I loved it."
"The snuggling and the nuzzling. To be honest, there's a part of me that really enjoyed my son's attention. It's not sexual; it's not even sensual. It's animal." Her eyes drifted a bit, as if recalling a particularly faraway cosmic mother-son snuggle that a father wouldn't understand. "And... there's a little part of me that also enjoyed the hunger in my husband's eyes. For my attention, but also for my son's."
Oh, dear God.
"You know, before my son was born, I would have nightmares about my husband drowning and I would dive in to save him. But about a week after our son was born, I started to have nightmares about my son instead. Funny, huh?"
It's 4 A.M. now. If I hurry up, I can get just enough sleep to make the day bearable. Hurry up and sleep—the motto of new parents everywhere.
I reach for the shrinking ball of warmth, now the size of a quarter. The paranoid part of my mind is tired. In fact, it's selfishly asleep. Which is good, because the words that come are my father's, who offered them whenever I did something that amused him, or bewitched him, or caused him, I see now, to contemplate his perch in the cosmos and the ineffable mystery of why fathers even have sons in the first place. He would quote a bit of old poetry:
"The child is father to the man...."
Which, when you are the child, sounds like a ridiculous adult riddle unworthy of unraveling. But when you are the man, it doesn't need to be unraveled, because the answer is lying right in front of you, next to the woman you love. The dead-of-night idea comes slowly, but it comes: This curious earthly rotation we all take turns on is made real—is made indelible—by the appearance of the next generation.
This same epiphany must have dawned on my father, and his father, and your father, on and on, back through the family tree of sleepless nights.
I wish I could remember the rest of the poem, but it is getting very late now. Finally time to rest. Reason and memory both fading. Led into the darkness by the last of the plastic knights.