Lamentation

Lamentation by Joe Clifford Read Free Book Online

Book: Lamentation by Joe Clifford Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joe Clifford
wasn’t a lot for kids to do in Ashton. The nearest Chuck E. Cheese was three counties away. The LPP wasn’t too exciting. Merry-go-round and teeter-totter, swing set, slide, a maze constructed from discarded tractor-trailer tires. I always enjoyed bringing Aiden there. I remembered my dad taking me when I was small. Felt like the memories I had of him faded by the day.
    When we pulled up, there were so many kids there I thought they must’ve cancelled school. Then I remembered it was Saturday.
    Trying not to let my stress affect Aiden, I did my best to remain upbeat, acting silly. A toddler doesn’t need to see his dad falling apart. I’m the one who’s supposed to have this shit figured out. On the wayover we were singing nursery rhymes. I had him giggling, but honestly, that probably had more to do with the sugar from the lollipop I’d given him. His face was sticky with cherry. I kept a stash of candy in my glove compartment. His mother wouldn’t approve, but she wasn’t around, was she? And I wasn’t one of those fathers who bought into all that new-age parenting bullshit. No sugar. No TV. A forced regimen from the crib through college. My parents didn’t do that with us, and we turned out all right. Well, at least one of us did.
    The snow that had fallen was the wet, heavy kind—perfect for snowballs and stacking—and several snowmen, in various states of construction, dotted the knoll. Two small boys, a few years older than Aiden, played on the merry-go-round, and he instantly gravitated to them. It’s funny watching how cliques form, even at age two. The boys were bigger and therefore cooler, and Aiden wanted in with the “in” crowd. Trying to fit in with the cool kids would never change.
    They were good with him, helping him up, not being too rough. I figured they probably had a little brother at home. I scanned the grounds for a parent, but didn’t see one, which was hardly a surprise. Ashton, despite the squalor of the Turnpike and truck stop, was still the kind of town where you didn’t have to lock your doors. Where you could forget your wallet on top of a gas pump at the Mobil station, and it’d be there when you went back. Where you didn’t have to hover over your kids, and could let them be kids and play unsupervised in a park.
    Watching Aiden play, I thought about the day he was born, seeing him for the first time, the overwhelming feelings that washed over me. I’d understood kids were an extension of you. Circle of life,
The Lion King
and all that. But that’s not it. They’re not an extension of you. They
are
you. Like, literally. I stared down at that tiny, squirming thing, crying and fussing, and when I looked in his eyes, I didn’t see pieces of me, I saw me. Actually
me
. This newer, better, cleaner version who would now be running the race, and my sole job as a father was to make sure he had the tools to succeed.
    Driving Jenny and our son home from the hospital, I was gung ho, up for the challenge, confident I could rise to the occasion like my dad had done. Only I didn’t. I wasn’t him. I couldn’t get out of my own way.No matter how hard I tried to go all in, something held me back, like a governor on a motorbike restricting full throttle. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t a lack of love. I’d never loved anything so much in my whole life. But despite that love, I was unable to produce, which had made me feel like a failure.
    “Cheer up. It’s not that cold.”
    I craned my neck and saw Gerry Lombardi, Chris’ old wrestling coach, looming behind me. Bundled in a North Face ski jacket and gloves, unruly gray eyebrows poking like brush bristles. Shiny cheeks and crinkling eyes, he smiled kindly. The guy was forever smiling. He had these big horse teeth that bucked out, which made him appear to always be happy. Hell, maybe he really was. A broad-shouldered man like his sons, but older now, with a chronic bad back and abysmal posture, Mr. Lombardi appeared to

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