I Will Pick You Up At Eleven/ I Never Even Left.

by Serge Bielanko

Gone are the toothless gums. And she sits up now on her own. She sits up and grabs at her bottle and leans back and guzzles her drink without any help from me, from us. In her room, you wander into the dusk back there and find her standing up/leaning against the slats, like she's leaning up against a pole on some lower Manhattan corner, looking out for her friends on a Friday night.

There is a baby's brand of Cheetos: she eats them as if she was born to eat them. Sometimes I wonder if I put a bottle of beer down there in front of the snacks, if she might not just pull out a Bic, pop off the cap, and enjoy a cold one right there in front of me. She's sagacious. Special, right? My kid eats Cheetos, love's 'em. That's a thing, no?

Leaning up against a comforter at her vacation house (living room crib), she watches DVDs and laughs aloud. Something exciting happens: Hopkins, the cartoon frog appears on the screen, she kicks her feet up and guffaws. She's like a little Roseanne Barr, full of good salty chuckles. She's seen this frog appear out of nowhere at least sixty times now, but still it gets her so good. After that it's a couple slugs on the plastic bottle. The morning plays on: she'll put that drink down and pop in her binky.

My roles are diminishing fast. I was the Binky Lifter. It was easy and satisfying. I like a spelled-out task. So now what?

Lay her down on the floor and walk away a little. And watch. She flips over onto her knees and raises her chin and smiles easy at the world. Look at all this, she seems to be saying. Look at everything we've got here! Then she's off. At first, it's a few rev ups as her stubby pink legs dig their best into the hardwood. Then, she waddles her arms and runs her tiny fingers across the shiny boards in front of her. She giggles her practical joker giggle. She fires her milky engines.

And she's off. Across the floor to grab a fist full of black lab/jingle some dog tags. She gets sloppy kisses back from the fellows and always looks both delighted and surprised as hell. I stare at all this sort of thing with my mouth open. Saucer eyes. I don't know quite what I'm seeing. That's my kid down there. She's creeping around and hobnobbing with big dogs. Jesus.

Saturday night they had a free bluegrass concert downtown and we took Violet up there. She sat up on her butt on the lush green grass, sipping her grape juice and chomping on her Cheetos. She watched the people play and banged her foot on the ground whenever the music sped up and got her excited. I laid there looking at her and tried to imagine her out at some concert with her girlfriends, seeing American Idols or Britney Spears or Iced Earth or whatever she's into. I sipped my Bud Light and tried to picture how I'm going to work that.

Here's probably how.

I'm gonna drop 'em off at the gate and tell her and the gang to have a real fun time. I'm gonna tell them all to be careful. I'll give out the lowdown on tie-dye wearing acid gremlins and whiskey-fucked-up construction dudes in Allman Brothers shirts. Stay away from older women who spin in circles, I'll warn.

I will then give her a twenty for sodas and fries. Or maybe that'll just get her one soda by then.

Then, some more wisdom. Avoid beery-eyed ruddy Parrot-Heads. Don't go to the bathrooms alone. And when you do go to the bathrooms, if you see any preppy short haired young men curled up in a stall/ moaning, then get out of there fast. He's an Upper-Middle Class Summer Shed Parking Lot Party ghost left over from Bob Weir's latest conglomeration and his lips are all chapped with ancient bong yak.

I'll slide her another tenner... to buy a t-shirt. Even though t-shirts cost 55 dollars. She won't know I know that.

I'll avoid asking her for a kiss, so I don't mortify her in front of all The Pink Ladies. Then, I'll watch them file in. Then, I'll go park the car and get out my Post-It with their ticket info/seats on it, along with my own ticket that I bought about a half hour after she bought hers. On-line. Months ago.

There's me, Pops: trying to blend. I'll be trying to blend, but I dunno. I can totally see me not blending.

I'll try and spot her/them, from afar. With sharp binoculars I will scan through a dense marsh of brats and hoodlums. It'll take time, but before too long I'll see her in her seat, laughing at her best friend's jokes. I'll watch her close, make sure that it's soda she's sipping.

The lights will go down. The chilling roar will rise. Fifteen thousand giddy screams will light up a summer evening. I'll watch her clapping her hands wildly above her pretty head. The songs will start. The good music.

After about an hour, people around me will look at me: the guy with the binoculars. He never points them at the stage. He never points them at the band or the dancers or the robots or the DJ or the big screens or the fist fights up on the lawn behind us. He points them at some place in the crowd. Probably stalking his ex, they'll holler over the guitars.

And what's with the bag of Cheetos? He even gonna open that shit?