by DAVID HAMMOND
rock on by Eric Chu | Flickr
Hello, up there!
I'm the rock in your shoe.
But I’m not just any rock. I’m a piece of primordial chondrite, formed from stardust in the earliest days of the solar system. Days? Scratch that. There were no days back then, because there wasn’t an Earth yet. I’m that old. Think about that for a second while you chew on your Clif bar and look out over the Shenandoah Valley.
Do I have your attention? I’m digging into the arch of your foot, but you lift your leg and do a little dance to shake me into the toe of the boot. Your two-year-old son in the baby backpack awakens from his snooze and laughs. “Papa,” he says, “Papa, more dance.” Don’t worry, little one, I’m not done with Papa yet. I work my way around to the big toe and apply my sharper end to the tender spot just below the nail. The little boy laughs as his grumbling steed does another jig.
You want to get me out of your boot, but it’s a bit of a production to stop and take the baby backpack off and remove the boot and get me out and then put the boot back on and put the backpack back on and catch up with your wife and daughter who are so far down the trail in front of you that you’d have to startle the local fauna to tell them to wait up.
It’s okay. Breathe. Walk. Wince. Suck it up. Don’t shake me out just yet. I want to talk to you. I’m not just a rock. I’m not just a primordial, older-than-Earth rock either. I’m a magic rock.
I’m in the heel now. How did I get there? Magic!
Don’t swear in front of the child!
Look, I know you’re skeptical. You think I got to the heel by non-magical means. Maybe when you knocked that root with your steel-reinforced toe, a complex but non-physics-defying series of ricochets sent me to the back of the boot. Maybe. That’s not important. What’s important is that I have your attention.
Because I notice your clenched fists, your stiff gait, your blinkered vision. Did you see that family of deer ten yards off the path, alert and still as statues? Of course not. Do you hear that scuttling of chipmunks and lizards in your lumbering wake? No. You’re too busy brooding.
I get it. Things have not been the same since you quit your death metal band after college to get married and have children. It’s natural to feel a little nostalgic. Was Kentucky Meat Shower a great band? No. Were they a good band? Eh. They were a band, anyway, and who was their bassist and vuvuzela-ist? You were! Who wrote their most popular song, Shish-ka-Bob? You did! Who dressed up as Santa for the Pi Kappa Alpha holiday party gig and wound up on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch when he got stuck in a chimney?
Who met a shy Japanese girl after a gig and woke up in a cold sweat, worried he had knocked her up? Who, over a pot of coffee, decided it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he had? Who started bringing Kyoko to every band practice? Who threw a chair at Kevin because Kevin kept calling her Yoko Ono? Who rage-quit the band by telling Kevin to shove a vuvuzela up his big, hairy ass?
That would be you.
Three shockingly brief months later you were living in a Washington DC apartment, calibrating your stereo receiver to annoy your lawyer neighbors without triggering eviction or litigation. You stumbled into a job as a Web Production Associate. The Ozzy Ozbourne bobblehead perched on the edge of your cubicle nodded as you pounded out html code, sleeve tats flexing and righteously obnoxious music blaring in your earbuds. You hung with the thoroughly-pierced graphic designer and called out all forms of corporate bullshit, while at the same time ingratiating yourself with your bosses by clapping and saying “Rock and roll,” at the end of every meeting.
Then Kyoko gave birth to Naomi, and despite preparing for the event by purchasing a Megadeth onesie for the new baby, you found yourself unready for fatherhood. Noticing your panic, Kyoko handed you her dog-eared copy of What to Expect the First Year, which you devoured alongside roast beef sandwiches on your lunch breaks. You were going to rock this fatherhood gig like you rocked Deathcore 2012. Which is how you found yourself at 4am holding Naomi in front of you, looking her in the eyes, and whispering, “Listen to me, you little shit. Go to sleep. Alright? I sang Baby Beluga 157 times, and every time was a knife through my heart. If you make me sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I swear to God...”
You discovered that while you can kinda-sorta reason with a bipolar, alcoholic drummer, there is no amount of logic capable of penetrating the thick fog of babyhood, and like the dungeonmaster in the KMS song, Pain Banquet, Naomi knew just where to jam the bamboo spikes.
She also smiled when you entered the room, laughed like a maniac when you threw her in the air, and smelled like... something good. French toast? Nah. Better than french toast.
So you fell in love with the little shit, and you remembered to buy flowers for wedding anniversaries, and you got promoted to Senior Web Producer, and when Kyoko got pregnant again you put a downpayment on a four bedroom house in a good school district with a fenced yard and a row of rose bushes in the front. You bought a lawn mower, even though it represented everything that is wrong in this world. For thirty minutes on Saturday mornings, its droning roar allowed you to disavow all knowledge of anything in the house getting spilled, broken, or spoken harshly to. You would just cup your hand to your ear and say, “What?”
This morning, after a nail-biting standoff with your son, Jack, over a bowl of oatmeal, you and Kyoko loaded a cubic yard of toddler equipment in the back of the car and drove out to Shenandoah National Park. Five minutes away from home, you argued with Kyoko over whether you really needed the sippy cup that had been left on the table by the door. You refused to go back for it, although you knew in your heart you would regret it. You stopped three times for various bladders to be emptied. By the time you had parked, suited up, checked inventory, double-checked inventory, and made it to the trailhead, Kyoko and Naomi had no interest in male companionship and shot off ahead without, you feared, a sufficient understanding of the trail markers.
“It’s just you and me, Jumpin’ Jack,” you said to the 2-year-old dead weight strapped to your back. But Jack had dozed off.
So, now, after dancing and cursing and dancing some more and trusting in and then abandoning trust in the mercy and compassion of females, you stop and take off the baby backpack. You sit on a log, remove your boot, and turn it over to see me, your friendly, primordial, magical rock fall to the ground. I’m smaller than you expected. Perhaps you look at me in wonder, sensing my oldness.
Perhaps you sense that I spent 4.5 billion years hurtling through space, a span of time so mind-bogglingly vast that it dwarfs all other displays of patience and fortitude. Perhaps you sense that some fifty years ago I fell to Earth as part of a fiery meteorite that went unnoticed by humans but freaked out a family of deer. Perhaps you sense how fragile and fleeting your life is, how useless it is to give in to feelings of petty frustration, and how grateful you should be for a sharp poke in the foot to focus your attention.
Or maybe you don’t sense any of that.
What you do definitely sense is Jack grunting in an attempt to free himself from his royal litter. You lift him out before he can start wailing. And what does he do? He picks me up.
Maybe it was Jack sensing all that stuff before?
In any case, he picks me up, and he says, “Rock.”
“Yeah, buddy. It’s a rock. Good job.”
“Rock!” He lifts me up in triumph.
“Yep. It’s a rock.”
“Rock an’ roll!” He throws me back down on the ground and lifts both hands in the hand-horn rock ‘n’ roll salute.
Your heart overspilling with joy, you grab him and lift him up. “That’s my boy!”
What did I tell you? Magic!
David Hammond lives and dreams in Virginia with his wife and two daughters. During the day, he makes websites. More of his writing can be found at oldshoepress.com.