How Awkward: A Date Night Tale

I have not felt like a teenager in some time. I’m a man of a certain age and while I may carry around my own personal supply of self-doubt and self-consciousness, they both fit in a perfectly normal sized backpack that does not in any way draw attention to me. It is the standard teen drama we all carry around, hidden safely, strapped to us to inform our sense of self.

So, as I stood there, cheeks reddening and heart racing, I was once again that same teenager who would walk to school, past the buses lined up dropping off all my peers. Dreading being seen and fearing not being noticed. Worried the eyes I could feel boring into my skin and my psyche were because a pimple or a stray booger had sprung forth unbeknownst to me. All this while not noticing I was completely naked from the waist down. Sure, this was a dream. I never in fact walked to school while naked down there. But I dreamed this a lot.

You can imagine how jarring it was to be feeling these feelings after not feeling them for so long. All because I was once again making a fool of myself, a thing done with such startling regularity when I was a teenager that it was a nightly job to process embarrassment in dreamland.

What can cause a 45 year old man, fully self aware and fairly unselfconscious to find himself once again blushing? Could it be a physical reaction? In this case that couldn’t be ruled out. That said I have a sneaking suspicion that it was much the same thing as caused me to feel so unabashedly and unavoidably awkward those many many years ago. In this case it was in fact the presence of a teenage girl.

Please know that she is, by all accounts, a perfectly kind, warm, thoughtful person whom I would have been embarrassed in front of in the same way were she a 45 year old man like me. I simply note her ‘teen girlness’ for the remarkable symmetry it provides with my earlier embarrassments.

This young woman was here to do her first of hopefully many future nights and days of babysitting for our kids. She had been here for a half hour before to meet the kids, but this was still squarely in the ‘first impression’ stage of our relationship. So, as so many parents do, we had spent the day cleaning. To put our best foot forward. For our high school babysitter. I mean, we worked for hours. Okay, maybe I’m not entirely unselfconscious.

neal-fagan-221904-unsplash
pretty much how I’m feelin’ right before I injected myself…

Anyway there we were in our date night best. We hadn’t done date night in a while, so for our standards we were looking sharp. All that was left was to show our young employee the where’s and what’s and the whatnot’s. It was exhilarating.

Then, right before we were to leave, I stood in front of her and jabbed myself with an Epi-Pen. Right there. In our kitchen.

Sure, I was blushing. Yes, my wife and the teenager were laughing pretty hard. Yes, I did think, ‘Oh, no! What have I done!’. I quickly realized I was in the clear. The needle barely touched my leg. I didn’t get injected with anything. I was safe. But the laughs became more nervous. More giddy. They even belied a fair bit of actual concern.

Why were my cheeks getting so hot? Why the heart racing? Why did I want to crawl into a ball and hide under the table?

Because I’m the knob that just played the cool guy and jabbed himself in the leg with an Epi-Pen. In front of his wife, who could only be half surprised at best at such jack-assery and our new babysitter.

‘We’ll be texting to check in and please please please don’t hesitate to text us. We would love to know how it’s going.’, my wife said as I hustled us out the door awash in shame and certain I was getting pimples, urging Karen to hurry it up in the clenched teeth, hushed tones of teen boys for millennia as I waved Karen to the door.

‘Please text, we’ll definitely be checking in to see how you’re doing.’, I added, trying to regain my composed adulthood.

‘Perhaps I will have to be checking in to see how you are doing after that.’, she added with a smirk.

It was funny. All of it. We were able to have a good laugh about it.

Then, for the first time in maybe 25 years, I dreamed I was walking to school again. I never looked down. Didn’t have to. I knew.

So Long 2018. I’ll Miss You

Charlie, Teddy, Mommy and I just cycled through all the New Year’s Eve Countdowns on Netflix. We even doubled up on the ‘All Hail King Julien’ and ‘Larva’ countdowns. We have only seen King Julien in the context of this less-than-two-minute clip, yet it’s a perennial favorite.  Larva on the other hand is just super weird. Mildly disturbing actually. I love that Teddy loves it. I’m not sure why.

img_4134You two don’t really need us to trick you anymore. You know it’s 9 o’clock or so and you are happy watching all these countdowns. You still dance. You dance without inhibition. You are whirling dervishes in our happy living room and are as excited on the tenth countdown as you were on the first.

Saying goodbye to 2018 shouldn’t be that hard. Outside of our bubble it’s been a rough one. But inside our bubble, inside our family, it’s been a year I’ll never forget. One that could have gone very differently. One that could have felt tragic even. But it didn’t. For that I have you two, my two wonderful boys and your Mommy to thank.

The lowest day of the year for me was May 11th. It started like any other, then it took an unexpected turn, then I was out of work. With all the thoughts racing through my head it was so easy to feel hopeless. I could have sunk. But you didn’t let me. You even found some joy in it. Even in my most determined and optimistic thought trains the best I could get to was finding a better place to be and earn money to maintain what we had established but you guys saw beyond that.

I haven’t written much this year. Not much to you two at least. I have to fix that. While I won’t say this blog hasn’t evolved since it’s start, I will say that I still wish to write it for you two specifically and for our family more generally. I still want it to be the place where I can select and clean up our muddled memories for future reference. I still want to make a trove of gratitude for the times we have to be mined later for the purpose of copious and gratuitous nostalgia. In that way I want to shine a light on 2018 before it passes us by.

img_2509First, I found a level of love from your mom, one that was tender and thoughtful and selfless, that I didn’t know existed. Her continual support and encouragement and love really made me able to see past the vicissitudes of the moment and grab onto the opportunity I’d been given. At times when I lost faith she never did. When I doubted myself she reminded me who I was and what I could do. She was beyond anything I deserve, even though she’d never let me think that.

img_1462-1Secondly, I had the year with you two in 2018 that I wished for and thought I’d never get. I got to spend the summer home with you two! If we could in any way make it so that you were home with one of us instead of away at various after school programs, we’d do it. We want that more than anything. But to live here, a place that gives you such great opportunities, we both need to work. But from May 11th through the rest of the year I got to spend my days with you. Do you even know how great that timing is!

img_1705We had a summer together while you guys were 5 and 7. Charlie was heading into 2nd grade in the fall and T, you were entering Kindergarten. What an amazing time to have with you! We explored and hiked, played baseball and went to the pool pretty much every day. We talked and ate and cooked and laughed. We learned Chinese checkers and met our neighbors. You two became neighborhood kids and you spent the summer in and out of friends backyards and trampolines. We sprayed hoses and shunned shirts for days. Well, you guys did. I am of a certain age and shirts are just a good policy. Still, we did SO MUCH.

The fall came too quick, I’m afraid. We fell back into the school year begrudgingly. Before long Mommy was taking Charlie in on her way to work and I was hanging with T through early lunch after which his Kindergarten day would start. We talked about everything in the mornings. Friends, feelings, Lego’s and life. I would walk you across the street and wave goodbye. We even blew kisses through the door for a little while, but you stopped and preferred to wave soon enough.

I’d come home and clean up and look for my next job. By now it was somewhat begrudgingly. You all taught me to have some high standards and I think I got it right when I chose to say yes to an offer. I’d turned a few back and  then had not heard anything for long stretches. It made me nervous. But you guys and mom were so wonderful I couldn’t just take anything.

I’m thrilled to be starting my next job at a wonderful place doing real world good works. But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you how much I’m going to miss what we had these past 11 months. I didn’t even realize I was dropping you off for midday kindergarten for the last time when it happened. It just happened. Like it had for months before.

I can’t say 2018 was perfect. It wasn’t. But it was the very best imaginable imperfect I could ever have dreamed up. I will never be able to recapture what we had this past year, but I’ll never ever forget it.

Diary of a Wimpy (and AWESOME!) Bookstore

When your seven year old son manages to have his attention wrangled by a book you pounce. When he falls so in love with a book series that he reads 12 of them as fast as he can acquire them you do everything you can to feed his passions. In our case that meant spending hours on end reading with him. He would assign both me and his mother separate books that we would take to his room and lie in his bed with him while each reading quietly. If one or the other of us chuckled we would read what it was that made us giggle back so we could all get in on the laugh. For us, for our Charlie, that book series was the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney.

Charlie at the hotel that night showing off his haul!

I don’t know if you’ve had any time recently with an obsessed seven year old. It’s intense. And when there is a exactly 217 pages x 12 books of details to obsess on ones curiosity extends beyond the pages of the books and into all the surrounding content they can find. It was while pursuing any and all things Greg Hefley that our Charlie discovered the existence of An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Massachusetts.

Well, our fate was sealed. A journey to the store was in the offing. So when we surprised him on the night before we were to drive the four and a half hours (spread over six or so as we were of course traveling with the seven year old and his five year old brother) he immediately started bouncing. Just ceaseless bouncing while exclaiming over and over, ‘this is going to be the best day ever!’

He wasn’t wrong.

There’s no telling if a bookstore so highly anticipated in the active imagination of a little boy can live up to his wild expectation. As soon as we pulled into the small parking lot adjacent the store on the otherwise unremarkable intersection in the aptly named (no offense) Plainville any concerns were allayed. He was all buzz and electricity.

Upon entering the bookstore we were all a bit overwhelmed. Immediately it was clear that this store was not the beautiful monstrosities we come across at our local corporate book monolith but rather a space designed by and for people who loved books. The high ceilings and burnished wood surfaces were beautiful in the lighting that instead of bathing every inch in overwhelmingly bright floods of fluorescent uniformity highlighted the spaces between the shelves and the items throughout the store.

It’s clear as well that this space was designed as a community space for book lovers, fantasy geeks, story obsessives and lovers of the type of independent bookstores that take residence more in our minds and memories than in our lives these days. Which is wonderful. For all the awesomeness we discover at the massive book behemoths there is something about getting lost in a less uniform space that I didn’t realize they were missing until they got to navigate this place of magic. It’s a modern throwback to a time when bookstores held a different role in the life of a place and a welcome balance to the modern, uniform experience. A place where a sports fan, a cookbook enthusiast, a reader of mystery and genre fiction and kids learning to fall in love with stories can share the space without feeling separated and segregated. Where each can stumble on the other and become curious about others interests.

The cafe was unobtrusive and inviting and after making all our purchases of all things Wimpy (and a novel for me and bag for mama) we were comfortable lingering and exploring our new lit stuff. In fact the cafe attendant saw how much Charlie loved the Wimpy Kid books and when we were done getting our assorted refreshments she slipped us a few cups, the sort used for a fountain soda or iced coffee, with images of Greg Hefley, the Wimpy one himself, all over them. We haven’t broken them out yet. We’ll probably save them for dinner the night his pre-ordered, signed copies of book 13 come in the mail!

An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Cafe

Summer of Joy and Pain

Underlying what has been in fact my most enjoyable summer in decades, if not ever, is the reality that a part of me is struggling. I’m listing and drifting further and further from the confidence I recently took for granted.

As I write this I’m still in the shadow of a vacation in which I spent long evenings sitting up with close and distant relatives laughing and listening. I’m sitting at my dining room table while my sons play with legos at my feet. They’ve taken to making their own creations from the thousands of assorted blocks we’ve accrued over the years. I’ve had the entire summer home with them and I haven’t wasted it. Sports, days at the pool, a little shouting now and again, but all in all an opportunity I didn’t imagine I’d have when they were this age.

An opportunity that has left me worried about whether we will be able to maintain this life. Concerned and ashamed, honestly, that it’s my failings that are putting all of this at risk. I keep stoking the flames as I search for  the answer but I am finding less and less hot coals to revive. It’s the end of August and I’d say I’m at least a couple of weeks away from the search picking up again. People who hire people in my situation (too experienced and too expensive for most openings) are out of the office at this time of year. I guess we are all on a school schedule of sorts.

Our youngest will be entering kindergarten and his older brother will be starting 2nd grade in a little over a week. I know that they look up to me, but I’m having a hard time feeling admirable. I can appreciate my value beyond how it is defined by capitalism, but I can’t deny that on the capitalism front, I’m failing.

I have perspective and my day to day isn’t devastating by any means. I’m actually quite happy. If I could design life it would look like this. Long summer days spent playing and swimming and exploring with my kids. What could better. The answer, the obvious one, is I could have that start date for my next contribution sitting in my head, validating the part of me I always try so hard to deny. That part that knows ‘provider’ is not my strongest suit.

TIme to wrap it up. We are off to the pool this afternoon and we want to get there in time to get a good spot.

Impostor!

Impostor syndrome is exactly what it sounds like. It is the belief that you are a fraud and you will be discovered and exposed and it will all come tumbling down when it happens. Okay, the last part, about it all tumbling down, perhaps that’s more projection. The syndrome as I know it is self diagnosed and I’ve been self-diagnosed with it many times throughout my life.

I have to be the last one awake. I need to know that everyone is asleep before I can start to tune out from the outside world and tune in to me. Before than I’m obsessed with capturing everything. Every joke and laugh. Every sidelong glance and thoughtful expression. Every conversation and concern, cataloging all of it. Every show. Every game. Everything. It’s been this way my whole life. When I was young I remember actually thinking that I didn’t want to go to sleep because I didn’t want to miss anything. For a brief time, from my early teens through early  middle adulthood I think a good part of that feeling was that I didn’t want to miss out or perhaps give the space for people to start bad mouthing me. Impostor Syndrome can make you a tad paranoid. It wasn’t a great look and it speaks to a certain neediness I have to cop to. I want people to like me and only like me. Which can be as wearying, I’ve come to understand, for those people who love me as it is for me.

When I was a kid I didn’t realize I did it. Being from a family of night owls, like SERIOUS all night owls, I didn’t put it all together. But when I got out in the world I recognized it. I wanted to know every detail of every story. I wanted to be in on everyones’ feelings and watch them evolve, shift, change and be fully processed out. I was obsessed with the stories going on inside everyone else. I think watching others process everything, from the tiniest disappointment to the rending and breaking of alliances and relationships was an obsession. I am from a giant, diverse family and I was in the middle and it’s possible that as much as this was my temperament I was also sculpted by my situation. There were endless connections sprouting, flourishing, growing and suffering, thriving and recovering around me at all times. Watching the most intimate moments of transformation, tiny and grand from up close and pulling them apart to try to understand them was my way, I think, of trying to usnderstand myself. I’ve felt an odd distance from myself my whole life. Watching others and trying hard to see as many angles as I could has been my work in many ways. My life has been lived in this labaratory.

I’m again feeling a bit of the impostor. It’s not traumatizing in the way it’s been before, but its there. I’m my own worst enemy at times. I recently made a book. A collection of some of my better parenting stories. I slapped it together. The writing had been done over years and I didn’t give it enough before I let it out in the world. I’ve since announced apologies, but it doesn’t change the embarrassment of it. I think I did it replicating the process of clearing the initial hurdle of becoming a ‘writer’, which was on my blog and eventually on others websites. I put down something meaningful and personal as fast as I could, gave it the most glancing of once overs and put it out in the world before I could lose the courage and edit out the real stuff. This is a GREAT way to get over the fear of vulnerability. This is a terrible way to make a book.

I’d always wanted to be a writer. In some ways it felt unreal and unattainable to me than the idea of being a professional basketball player had been when I was younger. It was the type of thing I’d only tell someone if I got very close to them and telling them was the closest I’d come for a very long time to pursuing it. In some ways it seemed like enough. Just expressing it. It was really more a wish, really. I guess I wanted to write, but only because I wanted to ‘be a writer’. I wrote some embarrassingly terrible things, real attempts on real things called word processors that never ever will be retrieved. I genuinely can’t recall the stories and if they start to come back to me I will immediately do whatever it takes to stop it.

Of course there was also reading. Books. Stories. Closely observed familial dramas. Fantastical tales of lifelong interest packaged to fool adults into thinking them children’s fare. Humorous absurdities disguised as adventures poking fun at everyone, even the readers. Tales of the weird aloneness of being a teenager. Great works of earnest vulnerability that can only be grasped after leaving ones youth. Grand epic tales spanning centuries that happened half a world away and a millennia ago. Sweeping historical fictions relishing the details of times the author can’t have breathed in, telling the story from surprising points of view that lend well known subject matter infinitely more depth and granularity. I’ve loved being spun by the great masters and the hidden gems, my authors who speak directly to me. I have not read nearly as much as my friends who are great readers, but I can’t imagine anyone’s ever been as enraptured and enamored as I’ve been. Or more awed by the force of an individuals determination and constant creativity when I finish a great book. A big part of saying I wanted to be a writer was a certain idolatry you could say. I was and remain inspired and diminished by how I imagine these books came to be. I wanted to be a writer. Sure.

Than I got married. I was working, paying the bills, we were paying the bills, then we had kids. I didn’t think they’d make me a ‘writer’, but they sure enough did. It opened up the art to me, this new found love and frustration and bemusement and exhaustion and love. Writing helped me understand what was happening. And not just the ‘honest, heartfelt’ stuff. The funny things were important too. Important to seeing it was achievable, damn near unavoidable, that there were any number of ways to fail and to succeed and most of them contained at the very least some small amount of humor and at times a huge helping if I could see it. And you have to see it. Even if I had to go looking it was nearly always worth it.

The heartfelt came more naturally. Truth is that I lost my filter. I was always tired, constantly running on empty and wondering what the hell I was doing. But every day, in the minefield of misgivings and doubt, there was always a million graces that they brought to me. In their sleeping faces and their silly laughs. In the funny progress a kid makes to roll over. In the moments when we were shattered and together wondering if we could raise these kids right. I’d transition through most of these things most days and as a man that is extremely different. I’ve gone years in a single mood. Based solely on emotional transitions I lived a lifetime every day before breakfast with kids. The raw vulnerability that permeated the air found an outlet in the writing. I mostly embraced it and sought it to relieve the pressure.

That impostor thing sticks though. We’re over seven years in to this whole parenting thing and most days I still feel like I’m doing a poor impersonation of my parents. Also, the thickets are cleared and I’m in a meadow at the moment. There’s not so much to pick apart. Not so much to make a laugh out of, though I’m sure I could find some if I tried. Which I don’t so much. I like to play with words now. Try to fiddle and fit them into something approximating poetry so I can stay sharp and express more associatively. But my writerliness was tied to parenthood and I’m feeling a tad unwriterly in this fallow phase.

Which brings me back to stories. I’m back to that original curiosity. That original sense that I want to do what writers I loved did. I want to write a great story. I want to write a lot of them. Which is daunting as I’ve never done that. Never come close, in fact, without it being based in my life. But here’s where I’m scared. Scared to fail. Scared to let go of the tiny toehold I have on being a ‘dad blogger’ and ‘parenting writer’ as it’s the only teenie bit of writing success I’ve ever had. Scared my stories won’t resonate and no one will read them. Scared I won’t be able to pull it off.

I’m also excited to give it an honest go. Excited to know that I have a toolbox now. One that is filled with the tools I’ve stumbled upon by following wonder and curiosity and simple wish fulfillment. Excited to try to write a tale that I know that I can imbue with so much more than I could have before.

Like every great and terrible impostor that has come before me, I guess it’s time to start faking it.

Used

We were lying prone and sleeping 

In a bed that wasn’t ours

The fog that had encircled us 

Hid us from the stars

 I’m not one to think out loud

Neither do I drink it proud

But never should you confuse this

With any of your unearned bliss

Chances are my thoughts aren’t deep

Lying crying while you sleep

So shallow laid you in my palm 

Enticing stupor renouncing calm

Had I gathered all your kisses

Collected tears, called you Mrs. 

You would still be gone you see

While I’m right here alone with me

I still know that you were real

And hope that you have learned to feel

The pain you poured so thoughtlessly

Inside a man you’d set to sea

Death and dying will encroach

Us left upon this orbits brooch

 When I assign my life it’s meaning

 Ours won’t have been worth repeating

When I look back on our mistake

I’ll be relieved that all it takes

Is soft and sunny love repaired

By one that never used my cares

Rondon and Roosevelt, River of Doubt

‘And the smell. I merely walk in his wake, with a fair few between us I should hasten to add, and still it is as if a rotting water buffalo were in my nostrils.’, said Gustavo.

‘I’m afraid that is not him. He is clearly a Walrus on land. No water buffalo would whinge as much. At least none that I’ve met.’, replied Lucas.

Both chuckled quickly and regained their composure as fast. They both looked sheepishly up from the fire  to gauge the Colonels reaction. His smirk was not supportive but neither was it an indictment. It was knowing.

‘He is at heart a good man. Surely. He didn’t know what he was in for and is on occassion losing himself. Surely he will be better in the morning.’, said General Rondon. 

  But he was not. He was not more patient for having rested. Nor more judicious in his expression of disagreement. He was as he’d been for some weeks as disagreeable a companion as a man in the unmapped Amazon could be deemed to be. He did not, however, allow that to effect his confidence, which was forever foisting it’s assuredness on the Col. 

‘It’s okay. I don’t mind the teasing. We are all away from home, struggling against the river and I understand the inclination. But once you have relieved the pressure please return the cap and secure it tightly. He is a proud man who thinks he is failing. We can’t confirm his fears.’, said the Col. upon rising from the small circle of the fire.

At night the men were equal. Not in rank or in accomodations, but for the time around the fire they were of one comportment and able to let their shoulders down. Truth was that the great man had made no bones about his primacy and did so in such a manner as to leave anyone unaware thinking that there was no gradation between the dual ranks of the team assembled to escort him in his exploration.He was long past his days of service, though he couldn’t know that heading into the forest, but his respect for the uniform, any military uniform it turns out, was enough for him to differentiate Col. Candido Rondon from the remaining crew whom he saw as servants and porters and minimally skilled sherpas of the Amazon at the journeys inception. 

‘Col. Surely even you must be considering a different way.’, suggested Felix. 

‘My friend. I assure you, I consider all the ways I can see. Have you a solution I’ve yet to consider.’, asked Rondon. 

‘No, Sir. But he is not relenting.’ 

‘Indeed. I suspect you are right. It is possible I haven’t given that enough consideration.’

Gustavo and Lucas were prideful men, but the forest was unyielding. They were surprised to see Rondon considering what they’d all been regretfully feeling. In fact, had the President had any tact instead of a constant questioning and pleading and pouting he might have found allies in the Col.’s camp. Instead he had forged an even stronger allegiance in Rondon’s men. But Felix was not a hired man. He was a considered and considerate gentleman of letters and a man who’d strategically or not, managed to develop a comraderie with some of the President’s men. Him making the case was something they could get behind.

‘Sir, there is not one amongst us who doesn’t see the wisdom of your dedication to the mission. To a man, we agree. What good have we done, what at all have we done if we do not survey this tributary. It is our stated purpose, our only purpose. But he is a foreign dignitary and I feel comfortable saying, he isn’t fairing well. For all his American bluster and bravado, his type of strength is less than advantageous on such a treacherous track.’, suggested Felix. ‘His is not the constitution you possess, sir. Nor is his sense of duty your equal.’

They were establishing camp with the fading sun. The day had been yet another in a long line of treachery. The weather was unrelenting. Still, Rondon was fond of reminding his men that the rain was a blessing all the way up until it was a curse, and for now it alleviated the rancid odor of man by granting every one the ability to clean up. 

Rondon took Felix’s words to heart and was quiet while he worked. 

‘Felix, I’ve seen you walking with his son. How is he faring. How does Kermit say he is doing.’, asked Rondon. 

‘He is deferential, but he will suggest whenever we speak that we might consider traveling rather for time  now that we have discovered the river. He will not betray his father’s bullish confidence, but he is worried I can tell. Not to mention exhausted.’ replied Felix.

‘Yes. But he is in good enough spirits, no? Seems a good man if not an altogether able explorer.’ 

‘Perhaps.’, said Felix, ‘But You must keep in mind, their exploration has been of the American west. Open spaces and horseback, from what Kermit tells me. Accompanied most recently by great naturalists bending nature to meet him with their own agendas. I don’t think this was what they ever could have imagined.’ 

The days were brutal. This had not been lost on Col. Rondon. The President’s much ballyhooed vim and righteous vigor were not exactly the match of his worldwide legend. Once, on a detail with a 200 man crew hired in port Col. Rondon ventured hundreds of miles across the great forest clearing land that seemed to bend and bow to avoid and even challenge his men’s dominion. If this was testing his meddle there was little to no chance that Mr. Roosevelt could have survived those nights, let alone the days. 

Still and all, Col. Rondon very much respected the President. He was a proven leader and his presence may have been lifting the veil from some of the greater exaggerations that surrounded the man, but his presence and persistence in the face of what he clearly hadn’t expected, and not as a particularly young man, spoke to how he came to possess such a peculiar and masculine reputation. 

Once the camps were set Col. Rondon cleaned as best he could and took his seat at the fire. It was the end of another long day. There were eight men in all, and each had shown signs of breaking throughout the journey downriver. While the communal nature of the endeavour was real and the comraderie, though slow to ignite and challenged in times of stress, had survived. They were growing into a family of sorts. One with dubious prospects for long term success, but not devoid of warmth and understanding. 

‘About the unfortunate incident upstream, Col.’, said the President.

He trailed off and didn’t quite look at the Col. 

‘Yes, sir.’ Said Rondon.

‘Well, do you think it was necesarry. Did we have to leave him like that.’, said Roosevelt. 

‘Why do you ask?’ 

It was a fair question. Roosevelt considered it staring into the fire. He could feel the Col looking sidelong at him as he gazed at the cracking flame. 

‘I don’t suppose I know for sure. I can’t speak to his character, but it occurs to me that we are not wanting for work and a set of hands, however compromised is still a set of hands.’, said Roosevelt. 

Rondon was not to be fooled. 

‘Sir, what good are those hands once they have killed. He might as well be a useless beast of our burden.’ Rondon straightened up in his seat a fraction and crossed his thin legs and returned his gaze to the fire. ‘It is like I said at the outset, Mr. President. Die if you must, but never kill.’ Every person who’d ever worked for or with Col. Rondon was familiar with this tenet. There are few things that can’t be changed, adjusted, reconsidered and blithely ignored when you are encroaching on nature and her inhabitants, but this was one area where he would not budge. 

‘He has surely, long since perished one way or another.’ 

It was a harsher statement than he’d intended and he knew it by Roosevelts instant reaction. 

  If the circle around the fire had been the family table, the tents had become the parlors. Each culture went to it’s own tent to unwind at the end of the day. It was where they could rest, certainly. It was also where they could, and did, talk about this journey and it’s meaning. Not to mention gripe about it’s seeming relentlessness and the decisions that were quibbled over every day. 

‘I have to hand it to him. He’s staying the course and there’s a lot to be said for that.’, said the wearied Mr. Roosevelt. 

‘There’s no doubting that.’, Mr. Cherrie agreed. ‘I don’t actually know how he does it, though I should suspect it must have at least something to do with his incredible smallness. Were he a figure brought to the curators at the museum they’d send him back and curse the fabricators for trying to safe a few pennies in material.’ 

Roosevelt granted a small chortle and smiled.

‘I suspect you are right, Mr. Cherrie. He indeed may need less than the rest of us to sustain such a small frame, but my god, his fortitude is downright Herculean. He handles malaria in much the way many a man in the city would handle an annoying but innocuous cough.’, said Roosevelt.

‘I for one think him rather foolhardy. What difference does it make if he maps and charts a remote river when balanced against the lives of his men.’, said Kermit.

Roosevelt loved his boy, but he couldn’t stand his bearing at times. It wasn’t just Kermit. He often lamented the ease and comfort they were so often afforded, but these were concerns long settled and he knew there was a point. Moreso he knew that some of this, if not all came from a concern for himself. 

‘We elected to come on this mission and like you I can become, from time to time, somewhat frustrated by the Colonel’s singleminded focus. But we must hold. If we fracture fully we will all fail. Besides, I’m not as old and infirm as you might think.’, said Roosevelt. 

Through the night discussion grew of the concerns and tensions of the traveling party. Separate conversations weighing similar concerns against opposing consideration. The Roosevelt party wishing to prioritize survival and the Rondon men knowing that there was only one way out and wondering how to placate the needs of the great man. 

‘What does he become so agitated about, sir. If you don’t mind me asking.’, said Gustavo. 

‘I don’t mind. I suspect his concerns are concerns we’ve all had in due course.’

Gustavo lay in the dark always aware that there were native people hiding in the forest prepared to descend on the unprepared party. Talking into the night gave him comfort in the small ball of light amidst the crushing dark.

‘He is pleading the priority of the mission. He is of the mind that we should abandon our stated goals and merely seek the most expeditious route to civilization. Today he went so far as to suggest that we abandon the river and stop wasting days crafting new canoes. He says he is worried for his party.’

Gustavo considered the sentiment and found a good deal to agree with. But he was a Rondon man and knew to tread lightly in areas suggesting retreat. 

‘What was your reply, sir.’

‘I understood his concerns. He is with men who would not be here at all of their own volition. I respect his generosity of spirit and sense of responsibility. At this point however I sincerely believe we are making the best time that is safe and responsible and that we should continue to explore and document new flora and creatures and we might as well map judiciously as we are taking the journey.’ 

Gustavo had seen this before, men who were frightened by the mission who wished to influence Col. Rondon. But this case was indeed special. America was a new player on the world scene and no one more typified the American spirit than this man. Whether it came from within or was an accident of birth, he was the face of a new world and it was hard to properly calibrate his true weight in the scope of history. 

What was indisputable was that Col. Rondon must return this man safely from the journey which was in fact amongst the most hastily planned and frankly most harrowing of his already long track record of nearly impossible missions completed. They were at a breaking point. There was only so long that he could wield control before the great man recognized and splintered off with his men. It was simple discipline and training that had gotten them this far.

Rondon laid in the dark considering the wisdom he would never consider in the presence of his men. The great man was simply not as young as he once was and there were bound to be treacherous days ahead. On the one hand he could not turn back as death surely lied that way. On the other hand, he needed to gain the confidence of the fellow who’d so brazenly and boldly led the march into the woods with twice as many men just a month earlier. He weighed and pondered over the relatively few options that lie before him and remained befuddled. 

Before long his rotation as watchman had arrived and he had barely slept a wink. 

‘Sir. Sir. Good evening sir. I’ll be heading off to rest now sir. Please be careful out there.’, this exact phrase had become a much honored secular prayer between the men. Rondon knew his men were stressed but handling the conditions far better than the American party. 

‘Thank you, Felix. Please rest well.’, said Rondon. 

Rondon gathered his things and made his way out into the night. Aware that they were still a day at least away from breaking camp, Colonel Rondon considerably reduced the fire and returned what wood was salvageable to the pile of dry and flammable wood that was maintained throughout. He considered the cast off detritus of the lumber used for the canoe and after a moment made his decision. 

The morning fire was stoked and the modest breakfast of foraged berries and plants was meekly awaiting to further drive down an already low morale. The men ate quietly while Rondon sat serene sipping boiled water from his tin. Beyond standard pleasantries the men ate in silence. Once they were done, Rondon stood.
‘Gentlemen, if you will follow me to the river.’, he said.

He turned and began to walk. 

‘Colonel I’d just as soon get started on the work of the day.’, said Roosevelt. 

‘I appreciate that Mr. President. I assure you, this will not take more than a couple of minutes.’, said Rondon. ‘Mr. Cherrie, do you have your camera equipment handy?’

‘George, please, if you don’t make it snappy, will you. Much to do today.’, said Roosevelt. 

In a moment they were approaching a post, clearly fashioned from wood that Roosevelt knew could be used for greater purposes than whatever this was. ‘Col. Rondon. I hope you know that I don’t stand on ceremony. Please, whatever this is make it quick.’

As the party rounded the post and followed Rondon in turning their backs to the river, the sign that hung from the post came into view. 

‘Rio Roosevelt’ 

Carved painstakingly perfectly. 

‘In thanks to you and your men, in honor of the relationship strengthened by this mission, on behalf of the Brazilian people and with the authority vested in me I declare this river, Rio Roosevelt. Congratulations sir.’

Had he been asked there’d be no way the great man would have known that he’d respond so emotionally. Without thinking he’d taken off his hat and held it to his chest. 

‘Thank you, Colonel. Thank you.’, he said. 

The entire party took turns commenting on the design of the signage. Commending the Colonel on his decision and admiring the skill so obvious in the work. 

Having regained a modicum of composure, the President called out, ‘Okay, George. Set up. We need a picture of this. . Colonel, please do me the honor and stand on the other side for the camera.’

  After the picture was made the party returned to camp and got vigorously to work. The air seemed less full with humidity that morning. 

The Colonel got back to work on the fashioning of the canoes while Roosevelt, full of energy and purpose was commanding his men in all manner of works. Collecting and recording local flora, mapping and drawing the detailed course of the river. Preparing and collecting the bounty of the forest for the days to come. Standing there amidst the hum of activity Roosevelt recognized a renewed committment in his men. In himself. 

For just a moment he got lost in thought. He looked over to the men working the canoes and sought out Rondon’s eyes. Looking up, Rondon simply nodded at his counterpart and returned his attention to the task at hand. Roosevelt smiled broadly for a brief moment and returned to his work. 

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This story was inspired by ‘Into the Amazon’, American Experience on PBS. I encourage you to find out more about this fascinating piece of history. The piece I’ve written is historical fiction.