Papa says. “I love you Jimmy,” at least three times every day, just so I’ll be sure.
He loves me, “A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck,” almost all the time. And when he doesn’t love me he pretends.
“I love you Sport,” is what he says when he’s pretending.
Papa pretends real good—not like Mom. She loves me too, when she’s around, but Mom is mostly somewhere else.
“She does the best she can,” Papa says, “Sometimes she needs a break.”
Mom cried a little everyday for a long, long time and then she started crying more. Now she takes pills, like the ones that ‘keep me comfortable’.
Papa says the crying’s not my fault, but I think it is. I know what’s true, even if I know it kind of slow. Slow means careful, the way people drive in school zones, and Papa says there’s nothing wrong with that.
“Down syndrome’s not so bad,” Papa says. “But when leukemia came along, your mama couldn’t take it.”
“She loves you, Sport. That’s the pure-D truth.”
When Papa calls me Sport I know it’s all pretend. Other times I’m Jimmy, or Big Jim, or Jimbo. He does it every time, so it’s not hard to figure out. Especially when he takes me to the doctor every Monday morning.
Dr. M doesn’t call me Sport, but I can tell when he’s pretending too. We call him Dr. M because he comes from the other side of the world where names have too many letters. Papa says Dr. M’s people don’t like Americans much.
“But Dr. M’s OK, Sport. Dr. M likes you just fine.”
He ‘keeps me comfortable’ with pills, but he talks about me like I’m somewhere else. Taking a break, like Mom.
“This will dull the pain,” he tells Papa. “One pill in the morning and one before he goes to bed.”
I see Dr. M once a week, lots more than I see Mom. I talk to him but he won’t answer back. Papa says it’s because I’m an American, but that can’t be right, because Papa is American too.
“He’s your doctor, Sport. Dr. M knows best.”
Kids with Down syndrome get leukemia all the time, and Dr. M keeps them comfortable while their Moms and Papas ‘face the facts’.
Papa’s really good at facing the facts, but Mom can hardly do it at all.
“But she loves you Sport. That’s the Pure-D truth.”
This week we don’t make it all the way to Dr. M’s. We start off, just like always, but Papa runs over a cat. He says it’s an accident, but he uses my pretending name.
We feel a bump and hear a squeal, and the cat takes off, dragging its back legs.
“Dang!” Papa would have said worse, but he doesn’t like to curse in front of me.
He tries to catch the cat but it’s too quick even with a broken back.
Papa gets a little sick beside the car and then he gets back in and tells me how the cat is hurt real bad and it’s going to die for sure.
“I’m sorry, Jimbo. I’m real sorry, but I couldn’t catch it.”
“Too bad,” I say. “Because then we could take it to Dr. M’s and he could keep it comfortable.”
Papa gets sick all over again, almost too fast to roll down his window.
“Was it a boy cat or a girl cat?” I ask Papa.
If it was a girl, maybe she has kittens. They’ll be sad when she comes home with a broken back.” I say that while Papa’s busy being sick, so he doesn’t answer.
“We’d better go home, Sport.” The cat he hit is black and that’s real bad luck so it’s no good taking chances.
“You know about bad luck, Sport. Things can always get a little worse.” I think he means my leukemia. When you’ve got something like that, more bad luck is the last thing you need.
Papa drives back home real slow, looking out for cats all the way. He calls Dr. M’s office as soon as we get there, right after he drinks a little glass of ‘snake bite medicine’. Papa’s so afraid of snakes he takes an ‘ounce of prevention’ every now and then just to be safe. He has a little glass that gives him just the right amount.
Papa talks with Dr. M’s office a very long time. Sometimes he uses his outside voice and says words I’m not supposed to hear.
But mostly he says, “I can’t do this anymore,” over and over, until he calms down and starts ‘facing facts’ again.
“I know,” Papa says. “I know, I know. Let nature take its course.”
He hangs up the phone and stands in front the sliding glass doors at the back of the house. He stands real close until his breath fogs up the glass and then he prints a word in the fog. He wipes it out before I have time to sound it out, then he opens the door and runs outside chasing squirrels that are playing under the big oak tree by the fence.
They are way too fast for Papa, and that’s a good thing for the squirrels. He talks bad about them for a real long time when he comes back inside. And then he says, “I only want what’s best for you. You know that, don’t you Sport.”
It’s one of those times when Papa just pretends to love me. I don’t answer him. I just stand by the sliding glass doors counting squirrels. There are five of them, just like a hand full of fingers. By the time I’ve counted them three times, Papa’s drinking another little glass of ‘snake bite medicine’.
The squirrels start playing in the yard again, like they always do. They don’t know why Papa wants to kill them, but it doesn’t matter. The world is full of things that want to kill a squirrel. Their brains are way too small, so they forget real fast. Just like Mom forgets to come sometimes on visitation day.
This time she remembers, but she starts crying right away.
“Take a pill,” Papa tells her. “Take a deep breath. Count to ten. You’re scaring Jimmy.”
“I’m not scared,” I tell them, even though I am—scared Mom and Papa will get into a fight like they always do when Mom comes over.
“Papa hit a cat,” I say, because I can’t think of anything else. “And then he got mad at the squirrels, but now everything is all right.”
“Squirrels never hold a grudge,” I tell mom. “Neither do cats. Even black ones that give you worse luck than you already have.”
“It’s all right, Sport.” Everything is all right with Papa. “She’s not crying ‘cause of you.”
That makes Mom cry even harder, so I take her by the hand and lead her to the sliding glass doors and count the squirrels.
“One, two, three, four, five.”
She laughs a little. I don’t know why the numbers make her laugh, but it’s much better than crying so I count to five all over again. I can do this all day if it makes Mom happy.
She sniffs and wipes her eyes and asks me how things are.
“Just fine.” There isn’t much to say now that I don’t go to school anymore, because she and Papa both agreed, “There isn’t any point.”
I have a bruise shaped just like Texas on my belly, and I show it to her because I think she’ll like the colors.
“Austin is the capitol of Texas.” I put my finger in the middle of my bruise where Austin would be. I know all about Texas because Papa came from there and it’s the biggest and the best at everything.
“He bruises up real easy,” Papa says. “But it doesn’t hurt a bit. Does it Sport?”
I say, “Dr. M. keeps me comfortable.” And that starts Mom crying hard again. She cries so hard she has to take a break.
“Call me,” she tells Papa. “You know . . . If things take a turn.”
Her shoes make lots of noise as she walks to the front door. She finger-waves me a goodbye and then blows me a kiss, and then she’s gone. Driving off to where she goes until she feels better.
“Sorry about that, Jimbo.” Papa fetches his little glass out of the dishwasher and pours himself another ‘ounce of prevention’.
“She’ll be back real soon. I promise.” He doesn’t call me Sport so maybe it’s not pretend.
“Mom loves you, Jim” Papa says. “That’s the Pure-D truth.”
“Pure D Truth” was first published in the Storyteller magazine, volume 16, issue 3. July, August, September, 2011.
John T. Biggs is an award winning author looking for a genre.