My life is defined by numbers. They are pillows I sleep on, the oceans I swim through; they are chains tied around my ankles as I sink. Numbers upon number. A constant ticker tape stream of numbers. I am haunted and hunted by numbers.
How fast are you going? 60mph? You are too slow. Speed up or the guy behind you is going to kill you. 80? You are too fast. Slow down or you are going to crash and you are all going to die. Make a choice. Fix the numbers. You have 16 hours in a day, and 20 hours of things to do. You are never going to make it. Make a choice. Fix the numbers. Make the impossible shapes fit inside the impossible boxes.
I go to bed and in my head swim numbers like slick silver fish with bulging eyes, devouring each other. Some with dollar signs. Some with dimensions. Some so large, stretching out into the murk, they fill my mind like a large couch in an apartment hallway. I struggle beneath them, crushed by their weight, fitfully turning as I fight for sleep. I wake up gasping, dry-mouthed, asking, begging for an update. I check my phone, desperate for numbers. What is the temperature? Tell me the cost of oil? How long will it take me to get to work today? You have 5 notifications. You can snooze your alarm 2 more times for a total of 15 minutes. Top News! 80% of all Heart Attacks Occur in White Males Age 35 and Older! Good morning to you, too, Mr. Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. What is the date? Is that really my age? The couch suddenly unfolds into a bed and I lie beneath it for 15 minutes more.
And then Somehow, in this swirling maelstrom of digits tossed like cows in a tornado, I am struck unexpectedly by a completely different assault of digits.
A naked foot slaps me across my face. I bat it away. It comes rebounding back, wiggling its pudgy toes into my mouth. I rise, sputtering and toss aside blankets to find a formless lump covered in glowing space pajamas. His limbs roil, powered by rocket ships and comets, as he moves like liquid to the edge of the bed and slides off it onto the floor. He stands, eyes blinking. Rubbing sleep from his face with the back of a hand. He notices me and smiles and then halfway through he yawns and then finishes smiling.
“Good morning,” I say, grumpily, realizing that I am only halfway through the 15 minutes of available snooze on my alarm.
He gives me a thumbs up and attempts to wink. “Good morning, Dad,” he says. And then he squints as if thinking very hard about something. He scans me from my toes all the way to my nervously bed-tossed hair, and finally, he says, as if in conclusion to his survey, “Dad?”
I fold my hands. “Yes, Gideon.”
“I love you.”
I sigh, relaxing my shoulders. “I love you too, Gideon.”
and then he smirks, “Do you know how MUCH I love you?”
I wait, unsure of how to answer. “How much, Gideon?”
He jumps, thrusting his fist into the air as he is trying to punch a hole straight through the roof into outer space. “I love you, Sixteen!”
“Oh wow. Sixteen? But Gideon, that’s a very big number.”
“Yes. But that’s how much I love you Dad.” He hugs me around the waist and then charges out the door.
I turn and face the window. The grass that will soon need cut. The car that will soon need washing. The projects on my desk that my boss said would take ten hours, that have taken me twelve, that I won’t be done with for another six. The day that contains four hours less than I need to survive. The figures. The weights. The costs. The numbers. Numbers. Numbers.
I quickly add them all up in my head, and in the end it all adds up to less than sixteen. Infinitely less than sixteen.
This has become a morning tradition now. Every morning Gideon wakes up eager to announce how much he loves his mother and I. First, it was sixteen. Then it became twenty-five. Most recently he was excited to declare that it was forty-one, the largest number he could possibly think of. Forty-one! Can you imagine? My head spins as I struggle to comprehend the height of this mountain. As his mind grows and expands so do the limits of his love.
I find myself waking up excited to hear the latest number. Desperate for an update. I reach past my phone and swipe open my son’s eyes. What number is there, sparkling inside? How much do you love me today? How much do I love you?
My life is defined by numbers. They are pillows I sleep on, the oceans I swim through; they are the wings that carry me over the waves.