…on those mornings when the sky's still panther black.🌌
“Wake up at 5am tomorrow?” my dad whispered in the hallway with a cocked brow and closed-mouth grin. He was intentionally standing around the corner from the living room where my mom couldn’t see his antics. But his mischief was palpable nevertheless.
“What are you whispering about back there?!” my mom yelped from the couch.
“Nothing!” we sang defensively in unison.
“Mmm hmm,” she murmured under her breath.
I nodded discretely to my dad, then ran upstairs to my room, closed the door and threw on my fuchsia turtle neck, olive green corduroy overalls and fluffy snowflake socks. Despite the giddy racing of my heart, I snugged myself under the covers, squeezing my eyes closed, and began reciting the alphabet backwards to calm myself to sleep.
The next morning, sky still full of black panther darkness, my dad offered an almost inaudible pat pat pat on my door, then creaked it open. I ripped my comforter off, jumped to my feet. My eyes stuck together with morning gunk, but my body was pumped and ready to go.
“Brush your teeth,” he lip-synched while pantomiming the act, “then meet me in the car.”
I wet my toothbrush, grabbed my jacket and boots, and Tinkerbelled my way down the stairs, dainty enough that my mom would never notice.
Outside the 3-inch grass stood erect like frosty toothpicks and my breath made a cloud of joyful morning exhaust. His brown Toyota Carola lowly rumbled on the street, letting out its own backside dragon chimney.
I got in the car to the sound of humming sports talk radio. The time shone 5:07am, and off we went to the local WaWa where my dad got a 24 ounce breakfast blend coffee (with hot water to dilute the flavor), and two packs of Entenmann’s frosted donuts – one for me, one for him.
5:22am. The slightest brushstroke of morning peach filled the sky, as I bit into the firm dark chocolate perfection that encased the most delicious crumbling vanilla cake. We drove the telephone pole-lined rolling backroads between Howard and Prince George’s County in peaceful quiet, letting the mourning doves and Chris Miller from WJZ do the talking.
My dad had 3 jobs throughout my childhood. High school government and history teacher, high school basketball coach, and real estate agent with Century 21. It’s not that we were particularly strapped for cash. It’s just that he was a real-life sassier version of Ted Lasso, overflowing with enthusiasm and ADHD. And his rascality knew no bounds.
It was a regular Tuesday in January. Not an official “bring your kid to work day” or anything. So at 5:48am when we parked the car in the teacher’s lot, he looked straight ahead and said, “follow close behind.”
He speed-walked me around the side of the red-brick building, never glancing to see if anyone was watching. Nonchalant confidence made him an excellent trickster.
And when we finally got into the building, he ushered me towards his classroom, his body towering behind mine, only stopping once with his hands on my shoulders, turning me towards his trouble-making buddy, Mr. Johnson. “Look who’s here!” he gestured without even saying a word, eyes aglow with sapphire laughter.
When the kids started trickling in, groggy with the torture of anticipating a lesson on the War of 1812 at 6:45am, their mood suddenly shifted upon seeing a little curly haired 11-year-old in a dorky corduroy outfit sitting behind their gray-haired geezer’s front-of-classroom desk.
I felt like a wanted surprise. A missing puzzle piece to my dad’s incomplete one-dimensional history teacher identity. Something special worth smuggling in, risks be damned.
And I think now how it must feel to be the baby in my belly, going everywhere with me, still somewhat discretely. Sometimes I turn to the right angle, let my open air sweater fall to the side, and it’s obvious there’s a whole new life inside. The clerk at the community food co-op smirks with delight. The dog-mom at the park asks how many weeks, with a knowing nostalgic look on her face. And the high school punk with purple hair suddenly shifts his aloofness, holds open the cafe door.
Maybe a few months back, my now sweet potato sized offspring heard some part of my spirit whispering, “Get ready tonight, cuz bright and early tomorrow, I’m taking you with me everywhere.”
Maybe she feels like the missing piece to my now amorphous identity. The part that's here to mold and shape me. Rearrange me into the kind of woman who wakes up way too early.
25 weeks in, baby still inside my skin, I honestly don't know where we'll go together on those mornings when the sky's still panther black, icicles hanging from the garage, exhaust seeping from both our lungs into the crisp unknown.
I just know I wanna take her somewhere forbidden with a rule-breaking grin.
And I wanna take you there, too.
If you'll let me.