Daddy gets his brain back.

Notes on fatherhood.
April 3 2003 5:23 PM

Daddy Gets His Brain Back

What spilled out when I cracked my head open.

(Continued from Page 2)

"What do you remember?"

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"I remember that if I don't hand in my book in six weeks, I'm fucked."

He looked at me a little strangely. "OK," he said. "That's a start."

And so I told him about my literary problems. How thrilling it had been to be handed material so rich that I was limited only by my ability to handle it. How for months I'd been haunted by the sense that something would interfere with my finishing it. How, a few months earlier, with about a third of the book done, the manuscript had been stolen, along with everything I had ever written and not published, including 15 years of private journals and biographies I had kept of my two daughters. How a fancy truck with darkened windows—it was spotted by a neighbor—had rolled up alongside my office in broad daylight. How its occupants had picked the lock to my office, stolen my computer, all my backup files (from a separate room) and … nothing else. How they'd left no fingerprints, only a mystery.

Then, by some miracle of brain chemistry, I realized I sounded like a lunatic. "I know this sounds nuts," I said.

"This all happened?"

"This all happened," I said.

I explained to the man—who continued to stare calmly at me; how I do not know—how my wife had understood, or pretended to, that to compensate for the loss of my manuscript I needed to abandon most of my responsibilities as a father. How I had spent several months redefining what is meant by "the bare minimum"—how little a husband and father can do and still not trigger screams of terror when he walks in the front door. How I had a genius for it—and an excuse. A deadline. How Dixie didn't seem to mind—a father doesn't add much to the life of a 6-month-old child—but that Tallulah was different. The moment I put some space between me and her, she set about trying to drive her mother insane. She'd eat nothing but sugar, do nothing but watch cartoons. Denied sugar and cartoons, she took to calling her mother "you stupid lady." Told not to talk to her mother that way she'd spit, absurdly, "Jack-n-Ass!" Somewhere in there she got her first bad report card: Her teacher said that the normally ebullient Tallulah was now, occasionally, "morose." On my brief visits home I saw more truculence than moroseness, but that was as alarming, in its way. On Christmas morning, the moment she realized that she'd ripped open her last present she looked up and said, "Oh, shit." Fucking hell, I thought, where did that come from?

When I spoke that last line the ambulance man laughed. "He's OK," he shouted out to his colleague. They changed their plan to drive me to the trauma center to determine if I'd suffered brain damage. Instead, they would drive me to the emergency room, to have my head sown up. Before they did they invited Tabitha into the truck to tell me that she and Tallulah would be right behind me, in the aforementioned car. My wife is at her best in such moments; she's as good in a crisis as ice on a burn. After making it clear to me that I was a wimp to be concerned about the state of my brain, she said that I didn't need to worry about Tallulah: She had hustled her off the ice before she could see her father lying in a lake of blood. It's astonishing how much trouble we take to prevent our children from seeing the world as it is. It's even more astonishing how, even when we might think we have earned a right to forget about our children for a moment, we haven't.

The ambulance started, the siren wailed. I remembered another thing: Tallulah needed to feel special because I had spent too much time working on my book. I was learning how to ice skate because someone had broken into my office and stolen my book. The theft of my computer memory had led to this assault on my own.

The emergency rescue worker was back to fiddling with one of the machines hooked up to me. He seemed to think we were done talking. We weren't. My mind wasn't right, and I knew it wasn't right. I thought: When you hit your head and you are never again the same, how do you know? If you have that thought does that mean you are the same? I didn't know; and I was certain the only way I would know was to talk and talk and talk. "I've got to finish this book soon," I said, a little desperately.

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