Where has he gone? The son that was once my own, raised alone without a mother’s tenderness? Has he vanished into a world where reality has been turned on its head? Did I turn the little boy, with his love of sweets, into a man with love of…nothing? For pleasure, in the end, ebbs out to nothing…unless something deeper is found. Perhaps the same might be said of my own obsession with perfection. Will we ever find what we are looking for? Will we ever see each other again?
I keep clipping out the articles about him, in spite of myself. I paste them in scrapbooks and sometimes even upon the walls of my office. He is a great man now, or an eccentric…the papers often confuse the two. Some say he is warped, sadistic; I believe he sees himself as a dissenter, an avenger, and evener-off of old scores through the tests he places children under at his factory of fright. Perhaps he is teaching them something, in the end, but I wonder if the shell around his own soul is hardening. He wants to punish them for their selfish whimsies, as I once punished him for his. And he is enjoying it.
Perhaps I should have let him grow on his own, instead of stunting him with overly high expectations. Perhaps I should have let him learn to taste the difference between the wholesome and the artificial on his own, instead of locking his jaws shut. Perhaps love is about letting go, even if the loved one is at risk of hurting himself. Oh…but how long must I let go of him? My boy, my little boy, the factory king, can your confectionary ever soothe the cravings of the heart? How long must I let go of you, with my arms longing to hold you again?
I hear tell of his hedonism, of his coldness to all that does not satiate or amuse him, of the sallowness of his cheeks and the emptiness of his eyes. When is the last time he has had a nutritious meal, or the touch of a person who views him as something more than a ghastly oddity, a powerful freak? Has he gotten used to the fearful awe others have in his presence, the strange creeping suspicion that something devious is turning in that head of his? Oh, stop the games…come back home…
Snip, snip, snip. Rock, paper, scissors, shoot. Old games, time-tested ones. Scissors cut paper whenever I spy his name in bold print, and the scissors win. I bide my time.
I am a dentist. My craft is the cleansing of teeth, the bones that rim our mouths from which are words are given life. The bones that chew the food through which are beings are given life. They have always seemed sacred to me in some way, and I have felt like some crusader, keeping them straight and clean and pure. I have drilled cavities and pulled baby teeth and cleaned out particles and polished enamel. They have always been my jewels. I have braced them when they grew out of order.
And yet…children are not like teeth, to be forced into line with a band of metal. I realize that now. They must be tended like a garden, and be given the space to grow, the chance to blossom. One must not water them so much as to drown the roots. Did I drown my poor boy, without ever teaching him how to swim? Will he ever draw breath again, free from factory fumes, or only sink farther down, unable or unwilling to be pulled to the surface? I wonder, and I weep.
My son worships a substance that is both dark and sweet, like his revenge, like his empty pleasures, like prostitution and the pour of wine, all culminating in teeth upon corn husks, gnawing them bare. It’s eating him, inside and out. Something is not right with him; he knows, and I know it, and the whole world knows it. He is lost and stumbling, even through his confidence in fantastic fanaticism. When will he break and realize I am the one to turn to?
I watch and I wait. I dream of dolls melting in a ring of fire, of children drowning in a syrupy swamp of their own desire, of changes in color and form of that which was once human, of animals with sharp teeth, gnawing through the skin of nuts, of a garbage pit that goes down and down and down…oh, how it burns…
Is my boy toying with the ultimate incineration, by his own hand, of his own creation?
If only he would come home, if only I could make out his silhouette against the horizon, treading the path to my door….how I would run out to him! But…would I even recognize him, after all this time? I wonder, as I open the mouth of my latest patient, stretched out on my dentist’s chair, and I notice the bicuspids….
Good God, I know what I am looking at, as if from a dream, or a dream of a dream…of me scolding, and him shouting, and then running away…
I draw back my tools from this young man’s mouth, and he closes it ever so slowly, his eyes wide, tentative, like a puppy prepared for punishment, just waiting, but not running away. Yes, the lord of the factory, the Bohemian diva, my son – he is here in my office, in my chair, awaiting some cosmic judgment…and he is afraid.
But he is here.
“Willie…?” My voice is a rasp, my heart leaping in my chest.
There is so much makeup on his face, he hardly looks the same as I last remember him, and his painted lips turn up in slight, shy smile. “Hi, dad,” he whispers, and there is no guile in it, just…longing. Then a glimmer of apprehension enters his mascara-clad eyes again, as if awaiting a strike across the face or a shower of angry words.
But instead he finds himself in the embrace of a father who finds words unworthy of the moment. And ever-so-slowly he hugs back, leaning his face against my chest weakly, trustingly.
My son, oh, my son…he was dead, but now is alive again…he was lost, but has been found…