This happened last week:
Joe walked into our bedroom after taking a shower. Henry, as usual, was waiting (impatiently) for him to exit the bathroom.
“Daddy out shower!” He exclaimed as Joe walked past him in a towel.
“Daddy PWAY Henry!”
Joe stopped to pat Henry on his soft blonde head as he made his way to the closet to get dressed. Henry, feeling slighted, walked over to Joe’s guitar, which was perched, as usual, on its stand, and without so much as a warning, pushed it over in one swift, deliberate move.
I was in the kitchen packing Joe’s lunch. (Editors note: before you assume I’m a domestic goddess who always packs her husband’s lunch, you should know that Joe takes the same two things to work every day: a tuna sandwich and a bag of Doritos. It takes me longer to wash the smell of fish off my hands than it does to prepare the lunch.)
I heard the guitar hit the floor. Like a bone breaking, I heard it shatter. I heard Joe scream and Henry cry.
“Nooooooooo!” Joe said. “Nooooooooo! Nooooooo!”
I’ve seen Joe lose his shit before. I’ve smelled his fear and tasted his dread. I’ve tried, usually with little success, to quell his panic at moments such as this.
Like for example …
Last month, I watched his face turn white when he realized he’d devoted the cover of his newspaper to the promotion of an event that had already happened. A year ago, I watched him projectile vomit out a window on the interstate while driving in rush hour traffic. Three years ago, I watched him weep when his brand new flat screen TV exploded in front of his eyes. (Who can forget that?) And early in our relationship, I watched him pitch his bicycle into a grassy median and demand I pedal home and get the car after I had pushed him too far on a ride.
None of these broke my heart as much as watching Henry break his guitar. It’s not like the thing is worth a ton of money. Joe can easily borrow an acoustic guitar from his brother until we can afford a replacement, or as he likes to call it, “his dream guitar.” And it’s also not like the instrument is a TOTAL goner. The headstock broke off the neck in a way that some guitar enthusiasts claim can be repaired, but this seems silly if the fix exceeds the value of the guitar.
The FATE of Joe’s guitar isn’t the point.
The point is that Henry broke something that matters to Joe. And the sad irony of it all is that it matters also to Henry. He loves Joe’s guitar. He loves to be serenaded. He’s been serenaded almost every day since birth. Well, before birth actually.
Joe plays for him and he dances. He grabs his toy guitar and plays along. He grabs a hand drum and pounds out a rhythm. He shakes a green maraca and squeals for more music. Like a little bohemian groupie, he grooves alongside his father in rubber boots and an old straw fedora. He demands favorite songs. The Lumineer’s Ho Hey is at the top of his list, followed by, to the delight of Joe, anything by Phish.
He and Joe love the guitar equally. And now the guitar is kaput because Henry pushed it over. Seemingly on purpose.
But my husband is a bigger person than I.
Had it been one of my prized possessions, I would have thrown a fit. I would’ve used language that would make Joan Rivers blush. I’d have immediately turned a shit-happens situation into a shit-always-happens-to-me tirade. I’d have deemed myself a terrible disciplinarian and immediately Googled boarding schools. I’d have called my mother with the woeful news, then gotten bitchy toward her and anyone else who dared put my attachment to a material possession into perspective.
I’d have not done what Joe did, which was this:
He asked us to leave the room. We left the room. He calmly shut the bedroom door. If he yelled, I didn’t hear it. Maybe he sat on the edge of our bed with his head in his hands. Maybe he pummeled a pillow. Maybe he solemnly got dressed, put on his belt, the usual black shirt, worn jeans and Adidas tennis shoes.
In less than 24 hours he would have to record tracks for Tampa’s 48 Hour Film Fest. The project required a guitar. Would he borrow one from a friend? Or bow out due to the whims of a destructive two-year-old?
In the kitchen, I cut his tuna sandwich in half, placed it in a Tupperware container and set it beside a small bag of Doritos.
Henry was at my feet, his eyes welling with tears.
“Daddy tar broke?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Daddy tar broken.”
“Henry push daddy tar over,” he continued.
“Yes, you pushed daddy’s tar over.”
“Henry fix tar,” he said, enthusiasm returning to his voice. “Get tools.”
He ran to his bedroom, pulled out his heavy toolbox and lugged it into the hallway.
“Your tools won’t fix daddy’s guitar,” I explained.
“Henry fix tar!” He insisted, pulling out a hammer and a drill. He knocked on our bedroom door.
“Daddy?” He said. “Henry fix tar. Got tools.”
Silence. Joe said nothing. The door remained shut.
Our son repeated, “Henry fix tar. Daddy open door.”
For five minutes Henry held vigil with his tools in the hallway. When our bedroom door finally squeaked opened he almost looked too scared to step inside.
“Daddy fix tar,” he said.
Joe, who was no longer in a towel, walked mournfully to the garbage can with a fistful of broken guitar strings.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Joe sighed.
The guitar sat in three pieces on our bed. Henry studied the instrument for a second then let his drill and hammer fall to the floor. Joe bent down to meet his son’s watery eyes.
“Henry push daddy tar over,” he said. “Daddy tar broken.”
His voice was small and wounded.
“Yes,” Joe said. “Daddy’s guitar is broken.”
Henry’s face fell to the floor, fresh tears streaked his cheeks.
“I’m sorry daddy,” he said.
Joe spread his arms out for a hug. Henry curled into his father’s chest, a feral toddler filled with remorse.
“It’s OK,” Joe said.
Then he kissed our son’s soft blonde head like he’s done a thousand times before and will do a thousand times again.