As I get older there are fewer and fewer mornings where I am granted the luxury of being woken up in a pleasant way. There is nothing pleasant about mornings. It’s always a shocking bolt out of bed as I hear a garbage truck trundling towards our house or a weary glance at my clock as I realize I have to call into a meeting in five minutes downstairs in my office. I am never woken up in a way that makes me feel human and alive, ready to face the challenges of the day. Even a “Normal” day makes climbing out of my bed feel like I am a toad being stepped on by a black boot, squished from the relative comfort of my muddy nest, flopping into a cold pool of water, so I can kick my way downstream to do whatever pointless miserable tasks a toad does for work in a day. I am a toad. This is what morning reminds me of.
But then I have Saturdays. Fifty-two times a year I get to go to bed with the vague hope of possibly waking up to warm sun coming in my bedroom window and the soft smell of something sweet being baked in the kitchen, and I can sit for a moment in my bed and consider the day and I can realize the magnificent truth; I have nothing at all planned for the next 24 hours. So, Friday nights I slip into bed and pull the giant imaginary lever on the slot machine of life and I close my eyes hoping for nothing but cherries. But the game is rigged these days. And the house always wins.
I was deep inside a coma-like sleep a few nights ago when suddenly I was roused from an unpleasant dream about eating flies and I found myself nose to nose with the very concerned face of my son. He was leaning over me, gripping my shoulders with his boney fingers.
“How do you spell ‘Murder’?” he asked, as I opened my eyes and tried to focus on the over excited little man standing on my chest.
“What?!” I said, recoiling away from him as he picked up a pen from my bedside table and thrust it into my nose.
“Murder! How do you spell Murder?!”
“Who sent you?” I struggled to push him off of me, but he held on, pulling the covers with him as he slid onto the floor. “Why do you want to spell murder? What is going on?”
He poked at me with the pen again, and waved a small piece of paper in the air, “Write down… Mmmmurrrrrdeeeeeerrrrr.”
“I’m not going to write down Murrrrdddeeeeeerrrrr.” I shielded my face with my hands. “Why are you doing this? Did your sister put you up to this?”
He seemed confused at my objections. “I want to look it up on the computer but I don’t know how to spell it!” He explained, very matter-of-factly. Like, oh, of course, everything is fine, Dad. I just want you to help me look up “MURDER” on the internet for “Research”.
“Gideon… You… Just… Why? I’m not going to tell you how to spell murder unless you can give me a… very very good reason. I mean, like, very very good.”
He frowned down at his pen and the carefully torn shred of paper he had brought with him, his shoulders drooped and he started to whimper quietly. “Okay, Dad,” he said, “I was going to play the game you showed me the other night and I needed to find the Murder Mystery mode. But I can’t find it because I can’t read.”
I sighed. Of course. This was all my fault after all. I knew somehow it had to be. I had shown him a game on the computer and he was trying to find it again. The two of us stared at each other for a long time. “Gideon, give me the paper.”
He hesitated and I had to lean out of bed and slide it from his hand. Then, with the dying pen he had brought for me to write with, I scrawled the word “M U R D E R” in all caps for him to read. I held it up so he could see. “There,” I told him. “The deed is done. You now know how to spell the word Murder. That should be useful, right? Start with the basics and we can move on to harder things from here?” I pat him on the shoulder, “Congratulations. You can now spell, Dad, Mom, Dog, Pop, Murder, and Hug… All the best and most sane vocabulary words that every six-year-old boy should know how to spell and look up on the computer.
“He held the strip of paper in his little fists as if it were a cash prize. Then he spun in a circle and left the room yelling a cheerful, “Thank you, Daaaaaaaaad,” over his shoulder as he tumbled down the stairs.
I collapsed back onto my pillow and peered down at my feet. In the silence, I wiggled my toes beneath the blanket, very far away. ‘Are they webbed like a toad this morning?’ I wondered to myself. Or is this perhaps just what it feels like to be human?
I slid from the bed and slowly stepped down the stairs so I could sit in a chair and watch as my son solved a mystery.