Bindings Part 2: To Seek Warmth
Lingering snow drifts toward earth.
The leaden sky is speckled white.
Time accumulates. And slips away, drifting into the past.
What follows is a string of gentle winters, each one progressively warmer.
Somehow, a decade passes.
I am a father.
I am free from poverty’s suffocating bindings.
Spring blooms and the sky is bright.
Often, I tell my wife I love her. I tell my children such as well.
Then, without warning, a never-before-seen cloud rushes from beyond the horizon.
The sun in blocked and a storm erupts. In the time it takes a building to fall, I am crushed as an avalanche of darkness collapses across my shoulders.
Wraps far more brutal than the wraps of long-ago poverty are layered upon me. I stagger under an unimaginable load.
As I lay prostrate under my new wraps, snow piles high. Frozen, I find myself engulfed; brutalized, under the weight of a new kind of cloak.
Swallowing a mouthful of dirty snowflakes, I gasp. My head rings with the sound of a broken bell.
In a single Tuesday morning, a decade’s worth of hard earned warmth is expelled.
I shiver before launching into a round of dry heaves. A string of drool slips from my mouth, seeking to escape the vacuum within. Midway to the ground, it freezes and like a glass pipette snaps, spraying the air with a fine mist. I wipe spittle on the sleeve of a
worn MIT sweatshirt. There’s a hole in the pocket from which smiles used to slip.
Small pieces of me freeze and flake away. What remains is a cold shell; a husk barely capable of functioning, let alone caring for my six year old daughter, Gee, and my three year old son, DJ.
I am a father.
And I am broken.
It is hard to say I love you when you are broken.
As snow of December marches toward Christmas, days blend together, each starting with the same routine. I awake before dawn, turn over and stare into darkness before running to the bathroom to vomit.
Resting a hand on each side of the sink, my chest heaves. Remaining warmth exits.
‘I can’t. Not this year. I can’t help anyone.’
I reach out, placing a hand on the bathroom mirror. I lean against it, wondering if my weight will break the glass. I hope so as a slice across my arm will replace this unfamiliar pain with the familiar pain of violence. Looking about, I find my reflection staring at me. He pushes his palm against mine and hisses, ‘Don’t you fucking dare. Don’t you dare skip a year. Now, more than ever, you fucking remember. You’re not the only one with bindings. You remember what it’s like? To be poor. To feel cold.’
Wiping eyes, I watch as flakes of snow tumble into the sink.
And I do remember.
“Just move forward,” I whisper.
I motion through the morning routine, bringing Gee and DJ to school before I head to work. I stumble through DJ’s transition time as his school day begins.
Pulling up a chair, I sit alongside my son at his circular pre-school table.
“I’m gonna draw a bird, dad.”
My smile fails to stick as DJ sketches a wild black bird. Scribbled feathers jut out in every direction.
“Wow DJ, that’s a wild bird. There are feathers everywhere!”
“She’s falling dad. And her feathers are trying to stop her.”
“Think she’ll make it, DJ?”
My son shrugs, “It’s up to you, dad.”
I kiss him on the forehead forcing myself to speak, “Love you, DJ.”
Before I depart, he looks up quickly, “Love you too, dad.”
A flicker of warmth grabs for my wrist, just missing.
I drive the long route to the train station. Continuing the routine, I park and take the Red Line to the office. Upon arrival, I stagger to my desk, ignoring coworkers. They know of my new bindings. Uncertain of what to say, they give me a wide birth.
It takes me a while to get started, but eventually I begin to type.
My email finished, I add 12 names to the “BCC” box. I reread the email one more time.
December 11, 2001
I have a favor to ask.
I need your help.
Over the last few years some family members and I have been working with a couple of local schools to anonymously give moms and dads who are struggling gift cards so they may purchase Christmas gifts for their children. We call ourselves ‘Project Elf’ because, like elves, we work in secret.
Why do we do it? Because it was not too long ago that I had to choose between paying the bills and buying my family Christmas gifts and I remember how difficult that was. And I cannot imagine how hard that choice must be when children are involved.
In years past we’ve worked through the school principal. Principals know what’s up; they know which families are struggling. The principals identify families in need of a helping hand and give us a general summary of their needs (number of kids, grades, general info like that). In turn, we buy gift cards (for stores like Target, Old Navy or Toys R Us), give them to the principals and they give them to each family’s mom or dad. With the cards they can then go buy Christmas gifts for their children. They do the shopping and they choose the gifts they think best for their children. We give them hope. We give them dignity.
We give them the holidays.
And, we never know the identities of the families. Nor do they know who we are. They don’t even know they are going to receive the cards until they meet with the Principal the week before Christmas.
This year, though, I need your help.
As you know, my father didn’t return from his response to the attack on NYC. You’ve all been very kind in reaching out to me. And now I am having a hard time taking care of my own children, let alone purchasing gift cards for other children. Perhaps I’m tired. Or just sad. Or crushed under this unfamiliar weight. I don’t know. This year, though, I do I know I am the one that needs help.
So I ask you, if you can please help us spread some warmth on a family in need by purchasing a $50 to $250 gift card and then forwarding the card to me so I can deliver to the principal who, in turn, will distribute to the recipient families.
No harm done if you’re previously committed or if this is not a match for you.
I asked you because I like you and I respect you. And I trust you with my personal request.
If you think this is a match for you, please email me directly and I will forward instructions in private.
Glenn Project Elf
I hit send and push away from my desk. I work the length of the day and, with Liz available to pick up Gee and DJ from after school activities, I stay until I’m the last one here. Before heading into winter’s air, I walk to the window of our second floor office and look across the street. I press my palm against cold glass. My reflection is nowhere to be found. Pulling my hand away, I watch as my palm print vanishes.
Today I cranked the heat. As a result, my office is warm.
Inside, though, I remain cold.
I hear a bird call and look up to see dozens of black birds resting on the telephone wire across the street. Their heads rotate to and fro as they jockey for position on the thin black line. Snowflakes cling to their wings and, within an instant, the birds are transformed into speckled oddities. Moments pass before the flock leaps from the wire.
One bird, however, remains.
She is completely covered in snowflakes.
She cocks her head.
She stares at me.
As the bird monitors my movements, I turn off lights, lockup, and head home. As is my practice, I keep a safe distance from the edge of the subway platform and wait for the train at South Station. A piston of hot air and the swelling rumble of the hurtling train engulf me. Knowing the train will soon rush past, I press back against the subway station’s cool tiles, whispering as I do every evening, “You have children. Do not move. You have children. Do not move. You have children do not move. Youhavechildrendonotmove. youhavechildrendonot…”
I do not run forward prior to train’s arrival.
I make it home.
Within a day, seven of the 12 people on my email list respond in the affirmative.
This year, the year of my new bindings, our troop of elves anonymously helps a dozen families.
My friends carry me upon their shoulders.