By Top Contributor Alcy Leyva
“Look at them! Wow!”
“Wow, Dad! Wow!”
A son and his father visiting a zoo.
But that’s not me and my son. Just some people who’s pulled up beside us to also view the animals which have been abducted from their natural habitat and then imprisoned in the middle of the Bronx for us to gaze at. My son and I have been standing in silence this entire time, looking over the railing, watching the giraffes in the distance … I don’t know, be giraffes, I guess.
“Wow!” the dad bellows.
“Wooooowwwww!!!” Little boy. Exclamation mark. Exclamation mark. Exclamation mark.
“How many can you see? Can you count them?”
“Yes. One, two, three….” The boy stops at seven and repeats the number. The dad laughs and rubs the top of his scraggly hair. Compliments. Beams. The "Aw shucks" factor is such in high concentration that I slide a few feet away before it makes me nauseous.
I decide to count to check the kid's work.
Shit. The boy's good. I roll my eyes so hard that it makes me dizzy.
And then, out of nowhere, I instantly feel bad. Me. My pessimism has always helped me navigate everyday human life. From an early age, it has guarded me from my insecurities-- from the blunted yet gnawing teeth of self-doubt. But I realize, now, standing here, that it might have also spilled out onto my relationship with my son. Here is Ultra Dad and his Young Bloodline, who is so gifted in Math that he's flaunting it at the zoo (of all places). The kid is probably looking for a small crowd funded startup selling lemonade. The budget proposal’s probably thumb nailed to his ceiling so that he can stare up at it before he falls asleep. His father is probably helping him with the business cards, drawn in heavy Crayola.
Meanwhile, my son and I haven't even grunted a breath in each other's' direction for about five minutes. His mother didn’t take this trek out here with us, labeled it “Bonding Time”. But the only thing I’ve bonded to is this metal pole and this notion that my fathership should be revoked somehow. I have to admit, it makes me feel some kind of way. I don’t want to say sad, but just a bit disappointed. Disappointed in the fact that this city-- New York, for all its bells and whistles-- strips the feeling out of you sometimes. That it has made me sarcastic, withdrawn. Coupled with my personal nihilistic struggles, I wonder if in just these three years of his short life, if I had become a father who has already failed him? Has my inner displeasure with the world taught him nothing about how to function with anxiety? How to wade through an overactive imagination. How to navigate kids who eat glue. I start to wonder if it's too late to fix this whole thing.
I notice my son, who had been locked onto those long necked horses in the distance, probably not thinking about those animals at all, probably just rummaging through his three year old thoughts. I watch him as he turns his head slowly towards the dad and his boy. And then snaps his eyes forward.
“Look, Da Da! Look! Eight giraffes! One, two, three….” He counts eight, shouting. As if I cared.
The boy beside us swivels his head towards us, his nose scrunched up. The quiet state around his dad lets me know that we have his attention too though his eyes are locked into the distance.
So, obviously, this is even worse than I thought. I’m not sure where to go with this. I'm not sure what to say. I make a quick count for myself, just in case one of those scarf needing mammals is hiding. Five, six, seven. Five ... six ... seven. No, baby Pythagoras is right. Meanwhile, the boy standing beside me-- my son, the one who shares my initials-- is off by one. He’s miscounted and is so oblivious to it that I feel like unfolding the map in my hand to find the nearest the lion pit to leap into.
While wrestling with these warm thoughts, he looks up at me, my son, wondering why the hell I haven’t replied. But this isn’t right. He looks up at me wondering why I’m not on the same page.
The boy beside us looks directly at him and says, “Seven. They’re seven giraffes.”
“Look, Da Da! Nine giraffes. One, two, three….” He stops at nine. He’s laughing now. Clapping his hands.
Something warm builds in my chest. “Oh yeah. Good job, buddy.” I reach out and mess up his already messed up hair.
The boy next to us, confused, half in tears, looks up to his male parental unit. “But they’re seven. They’re seven giraffes, dad. Why would he say nine when they're seven?"
“Ten! Ten, giraffes, Da Da! Ten!”
"It's okay," Dad of the Year whispered, drawing his kin so close that their family tree aches. He's trying his best to meet my eyes, to pass me a scowl or a frown or whatever the hell, but I'm not an idiot. I just keep staring at those majestically elongated creatures.
"Let's go somewhere over here," Dad says. And they exeunt the fuck away.
Alone now, my son's laughter trails off and I yawn. He slips his chin back onto the metal railing as I place my elbows on the bar and we both fall back into that quiet space, watching those lightning rods of the animal kingdom graze and shit. We stand in silence understanding a little more but not really caring too much to say anything else about it.
Alcy Leyva is a Bronx-born writer who enjoys fiction and likes to prod at its dark corners for strange interlopers. He taps into elements of fantasy and dark humor, but tends to roam around tirelessly for the next great project. He enjoys movies, gummi bears, and the word “schadenfreude”. You can find more of his work at AlcyLeyva.Weebly.com.