April 5, 2007
About a week ago I found my wife sitting alone at the kitchen table with tears in her eyes. "What’s wrong," I asked.
"Three kids were killed in a car accident in Chicago. One was killed instantly. The car caught on fire and the other two were burned to death as people tried to pull them out." She began to get teary eyed again...
"Were these people you knew?"
"No. Friends of Theresa and Grace... I mean you raise a child for 20 years and then this?"
Now things were becoming clearer. Of course there’s death all around, and mainly we ignore it, because we have to, because life would be too painful otherwise, but when you imagine a tragedy like that with own kids, it all changes. That’s the thing about being a parent. For all the cool points you lose walking around with your baby bjorns, you are forced to be more vulnerable and maybe more humane. Dealing that that vulnerability is one of the hardest tasks a parents face, because love inverted is an abyss...
A few hours later my son and I are sitting in a hot allergist’s office full of jumpy kids slowly becoming unnerved by the muffled sounds of other kids screaming as their backs are being pricked with tiny doses of potential toxins, you are finally led into an inner office. The doctor is distracted and exhausted, he keeps sweating uncontrollably and patting his brow with a handkerchief. I think how quaint it is to carry a handkerchief. He looks so different from man in wedding picture on the wall—a smiling young man in traditional Bengali garb with his arm uncomfortably around his bride’s waist. He’s doing paperwork and only seems to notice us when my son picks up a snowglobe on the desk. "Don’t let him throw that." he says. Then glancing down at the test results on his desk, "The boy has a peanut allergy. He had a strong reaction. It is serious, maybe life threatening. So no peanut butter for him."
"Do people ever grow out of these allergies?" I ask.
"There is so much we don’t know about allergies," he answers.
Soon we were whisked out the door... My son is glad to be out of hot office and the screaming kids. We chase each other home. Every time I stop he says, "More daddy more."
That night I keep dreaming of my son in school. Another kid offers him an M&M. He's happy. "Treats" he says. They're hiding away in a corner... He doesn’t hear me calling for him....
I wake up in a cold sweat, but when I wake up I see those kids in the car. The scene plays out in excruciating detail. In that moment I see my own life as a series of near misses. The collision in England. The crash in Texas. The undertow. The man with the knife at 2 am. My poor dad. Then I imagine the parents of those kids in the car who guided them through life and protected them from so many dangers but couldn’t save them from the one they couldn’t see.