By Brian Zimbler
“I feel like you’re doing everything in your power, verbally and non-verbally, to tell me not to say anything negative,” I say to Randy, my therapist.
We’re doing a phone session. I’m propped up on Nora’s side of the bed against an ornamental IKEA pillow. Nora and Myla are downstairs, watching Elliot. It’s his 12th day. It’s a snow day. I have my jeans on, which is a total Nora no-no (no outdoor clothes can touch the duvet) but I am being passive aggressive because I want her to love me more than the baby.
“I’m not forcing you to be positive,” Randy parries, “If anything, I’m asking you to stay in — “
“I know, I know, stay in the good feelings. I am. I’m trying. You gotta admit, I could’ve spun into the real dark telling you the parents-at-the-bris story just now, but I stayed good.”
Elliot’s bris was last week. My parents came down. The mohel, in the prep documents she sent us, let us know she would need an assistant to stay by her side throughout the process. Nora and I decided this would either be my father the doctor or my mother the therapist, we would decide day of; however, day of, I decided – though I can’t really call it a decision, more a clear loud message from inside – that I would never ever let either of my parents be with my son at his most vulnerable, ever, and that I would be the one to usher him through.
“It’s never the dad,” said the mohel.
“This time it’s the dad,” I said.
And I did it. I stayed with my beautiful new son even through the part upstairs where she pulled my beautiful new son’s foreskin back and clamped it, to prepare him to be cut. Even through the part where he was brought downstairs covered in a tallis on a sick infant’s gurney. Even through the part where all the sugar water in the world could not put my strong son to sleep.
Even through the cut.
“You should be very proud of how you handled that,” Randy says now, “You did stay in the positive.”
Then, when I had done this hard thing I was called to do, this father thing, my parents pulled me aside into our foyer. It’s crazy, but for a second I thought they were going to finally grant me my adulthood. Nope. They said the service was too secular.
I nodded slowly and stayed quiet.
“Gracias. And that was a lot. I should’ve just punched them in the face, but then I would’ve had to fucking go to jail. You should be calling me the Jack of Positivity.”
“So here’s a thought, Jack: What if you stayed in the positive for our whole session?”
“That wouldn’t be the truth!”
“What’s the truth, Brian?”
“You know things that are underneath the things I know. It makes me feel so stupid.”
“What do you think I know?”
“This whole session all I’ve wanted is just to tell you one thing, and you’re not letting me.”
“Say the thing.”
“I’m . . . I’m feeling some bad things about my own son.”
“Like what things?”
“I can’t say them.”
“Brian. Whatever they are, they’re not bad. You get so caught up in putting yourself down for just normal things that people feel.”
“Yes, Randy, but admit that you totally normalize everything. I could be like ‘Randy, I got so mad at Elliot today that I clubbed the last albino baby seal and then threw out its insides and made myself fuzzy white slippers out of it,’ and you’d be like, “Normal!”
“Glad to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor. You just might need it. All fathers want to hurt their children, Bri. Abraham and Isaac? When he’s screaming, you want him to be quiet. When he’s up at night, you want — “
“When I’m bouncing him on the birth ball, I have very bad thoughts.”
“You want to hurt him.”
“I want to throw him.”
“You want to throw him.”
“I want to drop him on purpose, and I have to, like, stop myself.”
“Normal, normal, normal, normal. I’m sorry to tell you, because I know you’d love to be exceptional, but normal.”
“You’re saying I’m normal.”
“But I’m unique in the way all people are. Not like a God.”
Elliot starts to cry downstairs. His snare drum cry, the work-up.
“I’m feeling something a little difficult right now, Randy.”
“Oh, ju ba loo,” I can hear Nora saying to Elliot, their secret language; she’s probably bringing him to her breast.
Last night, right before bedtime, Nora was nursing Elliot on the bed. I was lying next to them. Elliot was half-asleep, wrapped in his swaddle.
“Snuggle in to me, my sweet baby,” she said.
I turned my head away into my pillow.
“It feels like a hard patch of what I thought was my heart just came off, and my actual heart is under it,” I say to Randy. I am going to cry; I feel it like a muscle pain. I look at the door. I go to my armoire, reach beneath my slacks and shirts and bring out Buffalo Joe, the stuffed best friend my dad got for me in the hospital where I was born. I always hold him when I’m sick or sad. I press him into my chest. My tears, unlike my son’s, are soundless, moving down my cheeks like honey.
“This is so good,” Randy says softly.
As I am crying, it is not that a memory comes to mind, it is that inside my actual heart I feel myself as a young boy, 7, maybe younger, sitting cross-legged on my bed in my room, watching the door, waiting. The little boy is yearning. The little boy yearns for his mother or his father to come through the door, to find him, to see he’s so upset, and to hold and care for him. He waits and he waits, but no one comes. Because no one comes, he knows that he is not loved.
I don’t tell Randy this, not yet. Because Randy will say, Bri, now that you have found your way back to him, it’s you, you who will walk through and care for him. Of course she’s right, but in this moment just the finding of him here, and the thought of someday loving him here, breaks my heart exactly as much as when I left him here. I don’t tell Randy all this, because I still believe they, you, anyone, might come.
Wasn’t that our covenant?
I hear Myla on the stairs. I hide Joe and the phone in the duvet and brush off my face as much as I can.
She comes to the door.
“Dada, can you help me find . . . Dada, you cry?”
“Yup, I’m crying. I’m just feeling a little sad. Daddies cry sometimes. It’s OK for Daddies — ”
“Dada, can you help me find my pink and purple My Little Pony?
“Myla, you seriously think I don’t know the name Twilight Sparkle by now?
Which one did you lose, the little one or the big one?”
“The little one.”
“Oh we’ll definitely find it. Why else would they call me Daddy the Famous
Finder. I’m going to freakin’ love finding it.”
“OK.” She goes back down. Elliot is starting up again. I bring the phone back
out. It’s warm.
“She’s great,” Randy says.
“I know. She’s a love.”
“Brian, I’m gonna have to get off in about 5 minutes, just so you know.”
“Fine. Perfect,” I say. “If you had said that to me like that when we first
started working together, just out of the blue, I would’ve given you the silent treatment for a year. But now I’m like a duck and your comment is like water on my back.”
“Should I bring up money then?”
“Oh my god, no. There’re limits.
“Honestly, Brian, you’ve come so far. And you’ve worked really . . .”
“I’m not gonna cry again, my friend.”
“ . . . hard. You should be proud, even if you can’t hear it. When we first started working together — ”
“Oh my god, I was such a dick. All I wanted was for you to admit that I was your favorite client ever. I totally lived and died each session.”
“I’m a little more stable now. Oh shit, I just fell off the bed.”
“No, I was just joking. About my stability.”
“Hot damn. Randy.”
“Thank you for listening to me.”
I hang up and check my Instagram post, a pen-and-ink self portrait. 77 people like me. I take a deep breath, wipe my face on my sweatshirt, swing my legs up off Nora’s side of the bed, skip downstairs, and ask to hold my son.
With Elliot cradled in my left arm, Nora and Myla and I — wait — actually Elliot too — the whole family starts the process of finding Twilight Sparkle.
Brian Zimbler is a writer, artist, and social worker living in Ditmas Park, BK with his family. He is currently working on a project, called The Year, in which he expresses the feelings of an entire year, from June 27, 2017 to June 27, 2018, the year in which his father-in-law died of cancer and his son was conceived and born. The visual art facet of this project on can be seen Instagram @sharkoshark2017. Brian has also recently been published at NY Tyrant.