Had they been a less practical couple, my parents might have had children by accident. Instead, one night, before I was born, at the wobbly table in the breakfast nook, Dad drew a line down a page of yellow paper to separate the pros from the cons of Kids, then a second page for No Kids. Mom stirred the ice cubes in a diet cola with her pinkie, freely associating, and offered suggestions for Dad to codify and record. Lips closed, he beamed at his neat columns and marveled at his wife’s abundance and variety, then added imaginative mothering to the list. A common mistake is to neglect the second page, thinking it redundant. To a novice making that mistake at the very same table, in my rocket ship pajamas, on a list of little consequence, Dad would patiently explain that there is no opposite for chocolate ice cream, only alternatives: other flavors, different desserts, other foods entirely, no food at all, or chewing gum, to name a few. The opposite of a richly fulfilled man could be a richly fulfilled woman or a miserable bitch. Now, a sandwich eaten with the non-preferred hand leaves the writing hand free, so when they decided to renew their vows, I ate a grilled cheese and composed a list for Dad about staying together and one about splitting up. He didn’t thank me but sat down to edit while I poured drinks. Dad’s rebuttal to “get a fresh start” convinced me I’d never known him, or that writing the lists was not about balancing truth with truth. Since finding them, in times of doubt, I had treasured the yellow pages that had brought me to be, until I watched Dad move “permanent truce” from one side of a list to the other.

Copyright © June 19, 2009 David Hodges

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