Friday, March 10, 2006

Jeremy vs. His Double

Yesterday, early morning: I walk down Castro, toward Market, along a row of Victorians. The street and sidewalks are dark with rainwater, the air cool and white with fog. SUVs idle in driveways, bored children strapped into car seats. The dads – their shoulders broad, dark hair sharply cut, shoes polished, cotton shirts neatly creased, ties conservatively striped – slide the doors shut. I imagine the dads dropping their kids off at daycare, SUV effortlessly gliding through traffic, then parking in a garage, then strolling confidently to pristine glass-walled offices, where they work as lawyers and architects and call each other “Pete” and “Bob” and “Jim.” They make $175K/year; their wives make $100K; they own their Victorians, each worth $1.5 million or so. They’re grown-ups.

The twenty-four bus groans behind me and I halt at the bus stop, wait. Inside the people stand shoulder to shoulder. I look around. There’s a dad sitting just behind the driver, a baby on his lap – sixteen, seventeen months? The dad seems familiar. He’s roughly my age, thirty-three, maybe thirty-four. His hair is cut short but he’s careless about it: it’s shaggy and uncombed, just like mine. He wears fine-framed, rectangular glasses and plain, patternless clothes. I can tell, because I have a closet full of similar clothes, that he secretly likes the anonymity of the Gap. He’s slim, but not athletic. He most likely hates sports. Of course he does. He also scorns cars. He might not even have a driver's license.

The bus grunts past 18th and we the passengers stir restlessly. I watch the dad from the corner of my eye. His lips bob down to his baby’s blonde head, brush the wisps of hair. He keeps his eyes on the baby, caressing the pudgy little forearm. I realize that he’s shy in his affection; he uses the baby as a shield against the people on the bus; he’s uncomfortable in this close-bodied cart, all of us swaying together. I shift away from my neighbors, hunch my shoulders. The dad’s head bobs again, kissing the baby’s crown, and I realize that I’m seeing myself. This is what I look like to other people, when I’m riding the bus with Liko.

We stop at Market and Castro. I get off. The dad and baby follow. They cross ahead of me and step into the Muni station. The station stinks of urine. There are newspapers and paper coffee cups scattered across the tiles. We go through the turnstiles, down the stairs, onto the crowded platform. The dad, I now realize, watching his back, is different from me in some ways. Geekier. Probably less political; he’s never organized a meeting or a demonstration. He drifted through high school, I think, taking honors and AP courses but not really academically oriented. Attended a big state school, just like me. Has a liberal arts degree but spent a lot of time with computers and science-fiction novels. Perhaps he writes code for a living. Is he freelancing? Does he sit up at night, wondering if he’ll still have work in five months? What is he doing out alone with the baby at this time of the morning? Not taking the baby to daycare; the dad’s not dressed for work and he’s carrying only a light diaper bag. Is he a stay-at-home dad? Are they going to a park, the museum? Does his wife wish that she were the one who stayed home with the baby? Sitting at her computer in the afternoon, does she stop typing and just stare at the screen?

The M train pulls little by little into the station, screaming and groaning. Using the baby as his passport – like I’ve done, a hundred times – the dad steps through the crowd, to the edge of the platform. Where are they going, the dad and baby? Now they’re in the train, the baby’s hands pressing against the glass of the door. His enormous blue eyes. How many words is the baby saying? Will he grow up to be just like his dad and me?

It’s so early in the morning, not even 7:30 am. Where are they going? I have questions. Hey, wait. Wait for me. I just want to ask you a few things. Are you happy? Are you sleeping OK? What can I do to get more sleep? Is it better for me to go to work full-time or better to stay home with Liko? Am I doing the right things? Will Liko still love me when he gets older? Will I remember his first steps, first words, the way he laughs? Will all those moments be gone forever or will I always remember them? Hey wait up, motherfucker, wait! I have questions! Stop the train!

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