I woke up suddenly. Blinking my eyes, I reached for my alarm clock and turned it towards my face. It said 1:24. I sat up, and then put my feet on the floor. The house was quiet.
Through the window I could see the black silhouettes of our trees against the navy blue sky. I could also see the turtle-shaped sandbox, the soccer ball William received on Easter morning, the bulky, plastic sliding board and the tool shed which holds more toys, a lawn mower, several cans of paint and, I suspect, a family of mice.
Everything was in order, yet I felt a tremendously worried. I picked up an old, grey T-shirt that was hanging over the rocking chair. Several years ago, the shirt bore the logo of the bar my wife and I visited before we were married. I wore it as often as possible.
"God, that shirt again?" my wife would say.
"I like it," I said.
"I can see that," she said.
Several years ago I had it on as I painted a chair. "You're going to ruin that shirt you love," my wife said. "No, I'll be careful," I said. But, by the time the chair was finished, I had left a thin ribbon of green directly across the logo. Since then, I've added pink from Grace's bedroom, red from the stripes on William's walls, green from the house trim and grease from a bicycle chain.
As I pushed my arms through the sleeves, I felt the familiar scratch of the larger stains. The worry I noticed upon waking had intensified into dread. I went downstairs. The freight train of doom that I felt barreling toward me was the month of July. One year ago, my boss announced that our company would cease to exist in December of '08. Soon that date was changed to September. Now, it's been moved to July.
After applying for several jobs -- and getting turned down for each one -- I decided to go into business for myself. A decision that was at once bold and horrifying; admirable and irresponsible. I took business classes and met with small business owners. Some days I felt like my crazy idea would work.
Most nights, I didn't.
"Who am I to gamble with my family's well being?" I thought, standing in the dark. "I've got a responsibility here. These kids trust me to take care of them."
I walked into Grace's room. She sleeps with her body sprawled across her bed. Hair, arms and legs reached in all directions, as if trying to occupy the entire mattress at once. "What does she dream about?" I thought. Fairies? Princesses?"
William's room is very small with its creaky door. My father-in-law built our house almost forty years ago. Today, I'm raising my children here with his daughter. It all sounds very quaint until you realize that he only kind of knew what he was doing.
The functioning of each door is subject to the seasons. In warm, humid weather the little latch inside the doorknob refuses to click into place when it's closed, so the doors swing freely like the entrance to a saloon in an old western movie.
In the cold of winter, the doorjambs hug the doors tightly, and getting them open or closed takes more forceful effort than you should have to expend.
Moreover, each door exhibits these seasonal traits to varying degrees. The bathroom door, for instance, only shows slight variations in behavior from summer to winter, while William's door exhibits extremes. During June and July it rustles in the breeze like a hand-sewn curtain made of antique kerchiefs. In the winter, it's as solid as a bank vault.
I turned the knob and pushed it open slowly to minimize the noise. He didn't stir. In contrast to his sister, who lay in her bed as if she had landed there after falling a great distance, William curled himself into a tiny ball, with his stuffed animals packed tightly around his body. Perhaps he missed the enclosed feeling of his crib, now that he slept in a bed.
"Oh, William," I thought. "Daddy's scared. There's so much for me to do. I'm going to have to work a lot, and I might not see you too much anymore. I hope it's worth working for. I'll do my best by you, I promise." I watched his little chest rise and fall a few times, then turned to leave.
I pulled on the door and it made a horrible noise. I cringed and William stirred. "Daddy?" he said.
"Darnit," I thought and walked back to his bed. "It's just daddy," I said. "Go back to sleep honey."
"Daddy, I have to tell you something," he said.
I've accidentally woken him before, which usually prompts him to say wacky things.
"What is it, honey?" I said.
"I want you to have Tiger so you can sleep with him."
"You want me to sleep with your tiger?" I said.
"Yes," he said, his eyes half open.
"Oh, William," I said. "That's the sweetest thing I ever heard."
I carried his tiger back to my bed, put it on the pillow beside mine, and went back to sleep. The worry had faded away, at least for now.
Now that's worth working for.