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To the Other Dad in the Pediatric Ward

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I know we didn’t talk much because we were both wrapped up in our own nightmares, but I wanted to tell you about a vague memory I have — probably one of the earliest burned in my brain. It must have been around 1973 because I was at prime lesson-learning age for a boy. My friend Tommy was over, and we decided to play marbles. You looked a lot younger than me. So in case you don’t know, those are spherical objects you must manipulate with your hands for entertainment because they have no electronics embedded inside. I know, sounds primitive.

The problem was that I’d been given a taw by my grandfather and Tommy wanted to use it. Back off, pal! My little self had no intention of sharing that new marble — it was way too special for me to be touched by someone else’s grubby mitts. This didn’t set well with Tommy, and a fight ensued that spilled over into the hall and eventually into the kitchen where my mother was cooking. My mother did not appreciate my selfishness.

Knowing I was in trouble, I closed my hand over the marble and shoved my fist in my pocket. An inquisition began during which Tommy truthfully laid out everything. For my part, wrong or not, I was stubborn enough to keep my clenched fist in my pocket and the two of them weren’t strong enough to wrangle it out. Frustrated, Tommy left and my mother gave me one more chance to give her the marble. I refused. My course was set. I had not yet been convinced of the propriety of sharing. When my father came home, I was enlightened — not only about sharing, but about respecting my mother. I am fairly certain I ate my dinner standing up that evening.

I have been married long enough that I share pretty well now. I do grimace if anyone wants to use one of my tools or even set foot in my shop. But most of the time I get over it. I also have an issue with the console of my truck. I really don’t want to share that space even with my wife’s little lipstick tube. I don’t know why.

This may sound rude, but I have something I don’t want to share with you. I will hold this tightly in my closed palm and do everything I can to keep you from seeing or touching it. I don’t want to share it with you. In fact, I would lock it in a vault, hire security and do nearly anything to keep you from it — because it is simply unbearable.

I don’t want to share this with you.

I don’t want you to know what it is to yearn for the return of something you can’t have.

I don’t want you to live in the past because the present only brings pain and regret.

I don’t want you to lie hour after hour staring at a dark ceiling because you can’t turn off your mind long enough to sleep.

I don’t want you to look into the tear-stained eyes of your wife wondering if she will ever smile again.

I would do anything to keep this from you.

I don’t want you to have to tell your precious child that they are going to die and watch as they process the information.

I don’t want you to say goodbye, that you will see them again someday in another place. Likewise, I don’t want you to yearn for the hastening of that day because this life without them is too hard.

I don’t want you to smell the dirt of your child’s freshly dug grave.

I don’t want to share this burden of guilt as a father and husband — guilt like a thick winter coat buttoned and zipped so tightly you cannot remove it whether it is justified or not.

I don’t want to share this with you.

I will buy you a thousand marbles and even give you the special taw I withheld. I don’t even know you, and I would do anything in my power to keep this away from you — not to share this thing…

But if we must share it, we will shoulder it together and do everything within our power to keep our fists in our pockets so that no one else gets to see… Deal?

"Game of Marbles" by Karl Witkowski
“Game of Marbles” by Karl Witkowski
Originally published: February 7, 2016
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