the birthday demon

When Evan was three, Evan was not just three. He was Three. THREE. THREE!!! WAAAGGGGHHH! THREE! THREE, DAMMIT!!!

It was a switch, switched.

For a year or so, we wrestled with our mouths. Every hour was measured in days. At the end of it we'd lie there and we'd sigh and then sigh again and then unbutton our pants in the most unsexy possible way, in the way you do when the skin of all your soul hurts so much that you're sure the unfair pressure of a button fly will explode your brain.

Nobody wants to clean up brains. There's no palmolive that can cut that grease.

Then, Evan became Four. We were not festooned in daisy chains and rainbows. We did not pedal vintage bicycles through a rainfall of Newcastle Brown Ale. But it got easier. The mouth-wrestling eased. He became reasonable-ish. We skipped into a grocery store holding hands and I was like Hey. He's back.

Ben's birthday is May 5th. But two days ago, Ben turned THREE. THREE!!! WAAAGGGGHHH! THREE! THREE, DAMMIT!!!

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See how he looks into the distance at the strange gas cloud on his horizon, a mass with a ticket booth and a Vegas bulb display that reads WELCOME TO THE THREE OF YOU AND THE DOOM OF YOUR PARENTS. What's that? he chirps, ever curious. That looks weirdly empowering. I think I'll go over that way.

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Here's the next photo I managed to get. Encouraging Ben (in green) to sit down in his chair and eat his supper.

Two days ago he turned and two days of maternal barking followed. I am hoarse. I've never yelled at Ben before. He's never reached that threshold. That incomprehensible whining that, given enough hours, is just like this.

Every time I look at Ben I say I'm sorry without speaking. Every single time. I'm sorry I just sat there. I'm sorry I was so afraid. I'm sorry I couldn't look at you. I'm sorry you were too small to have a voice. There is regret and sadness and it is that superfine dust that, in the face of attempts to clean, stirs itself into a cloud before settling back down to cover everything once again.

Pairing that with exasperation, my head cracks in two. I yell at him and he looks at me and his eyeballs swell to five times their normal size and the eyeballs say this

My brother died. I almost died. I had no heartbeat and you're yelling at me.

And then he picks up the flaming bowling pins again and resumes the incomprehensible whining while I go to a corner to hold my head in my hands.

Liam is gone, just gone. The places that used to be inhabited are abandoned. They're empty warehouses.

I don't know what to say anymore. I am lucky. I am cursed. I am not normal.

So I say nothing.

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Ben had collapsed. I kissed him, tucked him in. Please sleep. You need it. I need it.

In the dark, Evan and I whisper-chatted about bionicles and Being Kind and chinese noodles and Why Bethany Is Allowed To Have A Nintendo PSP All Day Long And You Are Not, Which Is Pretty Much Because Bethany's Mommy Doesn't Mind If Bethany's Brain Turns Into Cottage Cheese. Then I apologized.

"I'm sorry, sweetie. Ben woke up at one in the morning last night and stayed up for two hours. I spent the whole day scrubbing the house and he spent the whole day leaving puddles. He won't keep his clothes on. And he won't play with toys. He only wants to smash stuff and draw on the walls with ballpoint pen and hide my memory card and dig in the knife drawer and rip up unpaid bills and client cheques and squeeze out all the toothpaste and he almost broke the kitchen table, did you see that? And he farted on my pillow and now my bed smells like farts. I'm tired. He was tired. We were cranky. I'm sorry. You were so good. You just played with your lego."

"It's okay, mommy," he cupped my face in his hands. "I decided to not listen to your madness."

Smart kid.