It started when I turned 36. Someone asks me how old I am, and I have no response. I stare at them blankly and have to reply...
That reply usually gets an uncomfortable laugh from the person who is waiting for my response. They don’t know if I’m joking. Or being a jerk. Or being coy about my age (I’m 29. Again. For the fifth time. Heh.) (Gross.)
I know what year I was born. 1973.
But somehow I’ve lost the ability, on command, to have an immediate response to the simple question of “How old are you?”
Even when I began typing this, I had to force a number to appear in my brain. It always appears in the area above my eyes. In sadly dim, yellowish lights.
And then I get a feeling that my brain has lost its place, as the brut force of all these years come pushing forward from somewhere in the back of my memory. Rushing forward against the 39, which elongates and explodes from the pressure of it all. Too many memories that seem timeless and immediate and unearthed from a completely forgotten part of my past, mixed tightly with bedtime stories that I just read to our kids.
Our son. He is five. He asked me to read from his copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends. And I instantly remember our family friends, the Delps from Plymouth, who came to our house when I was five and gave us two books and three giant coloring books of Red Skelton clowns. The two books...James and the Giant Peach. And Where the Sidewalk Ends.
Our son. He asks for me to read him some of the jokes in the book. He calls them jokes. I said they were poems. Funny poems sometimes. Sort of jokes. Sometimes. And he just stared at me for a moment. “Oh. I thought they were jokes.”
And a bit of silence as he sorts it out, looking at the book in his hands.
He got the book for his birthday. When he was two. I remember that. I know his birthday. How old he is. His sisters. My wife. I know their days.
“What are poems?” he finally asks.
“Oh. Um. They are stories. Sort of. Sometimes they rhyme. Sometimes not. Sometimes they’re short. And sometimes long. And they’re jokes, sometimes. And sometimes sad. And sometimes they just make you feel something that you can’t explain. But you can feel a poem inside you. Because every word matters in a poem. Every word is there for a reason.”
“Every word matters.”
“Yep. That’s right. Every word matters.”
And so we read three poems. Jokes. Sometimes.
The one where the Earth Is Flat.
Hug of War.
When we finished, I asked him how the poems made him feel inside.
“Happy. And a little sad.”
Were they good?
“Yes. Pretty good.”
“Dad? Can I have a hug?”
I am 39. This is my birthday cake. It is unforgettable.
And for another incredible coconut cake, check out our friends at Smith Bites with their Coconut Cake from Saveur.