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William Hawkins


Look at you. They’re wiping the last bits of birth off you, two nurses in
lilac scrubs weighing you, measuring you, lifting up your arms, your
legs, poking, wiping—they’re absolutely merciless—and look at you.
Skin scarlet, mouth torn apart, you must screaming to wake the dead.
We can’t hear a thing. Hi. This is us, on the other side of the plexiglass.
My name is Robbie—Uncle Robbie—and this one I’m holding up—just
barely, she’s getting big—this is your older sister, her name’s Clare Ann.
We call her Little Bit. She’s asking me if they’re hurting you, and I’m
telling her no, in a very comforting way, but you know—I’ll be honest,
buddy—I don’t think she’s too worried over it. There’s no whine in her
voice, no fear, she’s just curious. As if she’s asking, “Is that what being
born is?” See her? This is your sister, just four years old, pink hair clip,
yellow dress, this is your sister and she’ll annoy you and protect you,
ignore you and bully you and embrace you and always be your sister, it’s
just a fact of living, now. Same as the way I’ll always be your uncle, even
when I’m gone. This woman to my left, your right, this is your Aunt
Patty, my sister, your mother’s sister, the oldest child, the one who took
care of us, our Peppermint Patty. They would have named you Patricia
if you had been a girl. You can’t see, but your Aunt Patty is watching you
with a soft hunger in her eyes. I guess it’s just longing—plain, lonesome
longing—your Aunt Patty at the end of her childbearing years. Not that
it would matter, your Aunt Patty being a lesbian—which doesn’t mean
she can’t have children! It just means it can’t be an accident, and your
Aunt Patty broke up a six-year relationship just a few months ago and,
well, it’s not looking good for Patty, in respect to a family of her own, but
then, hey, here you are, and now you have an Aunt Patty, and—Jesus,
look at you kick! You’re squirming, contorting, you want to get back to
the only place you’ve ever known. I know it. That’s the rub, isn’t it,
buddy? We’re all on the way back to where we were. A little mopey, but
there it is. Sorry. This is all new to me. I missed Clare Anne’s birth, I was
gone, away—don’t ask—so this whole thing, this whole gathering in the
hospital, watching Family Feud in the waiting room, this is a brand new
thing for me. So, it’s your sister and your Aunt Patty and me and this is
your Uncle Gilbert, taking a picture on his cell phone, big neck, beer
belly, barely comes to my waist. He’s not your uncle by blood, mind. You
don’t have to worry about those genes, kid, he’s just your dad’s best
friend, helped your dad in times of need, your dad, kiddo, having a
rough go of it, his father, your grandfather, a somewhat infamous man,
a drug dealer and they say—because I want you to know from the getgo                           what kind of world this is—they say your grandfather once smuggled
eight ounces of cocaine up his ass across the border at El Paso, and
while I’m not sure if that’s a lot of cocaine or a little what I am sure of is
that he’s currently serving number eighteen of a twenty-five year
minimum sentence at a federal penitentiary for a trifecta of drug
trafficking, possession, and manslaughter. Anyway, this is where your
dad came from, and this is why people like your Uncle Gilbert were
needed because your dad’s mother, your grandmother, is long dead. I
never even got the chance to meet her. She died when your dad was only
six, walking across the street and—I just want to spare you, love, all the
excuses—a white pickup just up and ran her over. They never did find
the driver. There’s no justice in the world. Her name was Rose. If you
had been a girl, your middle name would have been Rose. Patricia Rose.
A sweet name. But you’re you, no denying it, and you have a good name,
anyway, Thomas, after our father, your Pawpaw—what Clare Anne calls
him, anyway. He’s not here at the moment; he’s in the bathroom, either
throwing up or has the runs—chemo, kid, is a hell of a thing—but he’ll
be here soon, he can’t wait to see you, wouldn’t miss it, not for anything,
especially not on account of himself. Mom, our mom, isn’t here yet,
she’s coming, she’s with her new husband, your other grandfather, Bobby
London and no, it’s not his last name, and no, I have no idea why they
call him that but I swear, whenever he meets someone, “Nice to meet
you, I’m Bobby London,” and he never explains it, he absolutely never
explains it. Maybe that’s why Mom married him, I don’t know. She
wants you to call her Elizabeth, by the way, which, fat chance, Clare Ann
has been calling her Granny coming on three years now. Mom thinks a
fresh baby means a fresh start, but well, you’ll suffer our mother like we
all suffer her. Our on-again, off-again mother, always finding new things
to believe in, she’s on Buddhism now—which is great, really, a good fit
for her because she’s the kind of person you have to suffer and that’s the
Buddha’s number one rule, you know. Life sucks. But listen, I’m not
trying to put you down, buddy, I just want us to be open about this. I’m
just trying to introduce us. Thomas. Thomas James. James is after our
grandfather, your Pawpaw’s dad, he died a couple of years back, he was
a minister, you know, Presbyterian, we’re a Presbyterian family—well, I
don’t believe in God and neither does Patty, and your mother says she’s
Presbyterian but if we’re things by saying then I’m a millionaire—but
Grandpa James was something of a legend in the old days, back in
Evening Shade, Arkansas. You’ll be hearing about a lot about Evening
Shade, trust me, the old town, small little backwoods place Dad came
out of, one of those places you talk a lot about but never go back to, and
if you ever want know why we left I’ll tell you, because once Grandpa
James beat a man with a Bible. I kid you not, my heart, multiple witnesses,
reported in the local newspaper, it happened outside a courthouse; he
beat a man with a Bible for disrespecting him. They were neighbors.
Something about a tree limb falling on someone’s yard. And I’m sure
Grandpa James beat Dad something fierce and—what’s that, then,
they’re doing to you? Poor thing. They’re just flipping you like a pancake.
It’s a misery being born. Anyway, there you are, Thomas James Monroe.
Sounds like a President, doesn’t it? Is it a President? Your daddy’s a
Monroe, of course, your mom taking his name—old-fashioned values,
old-fashioned home. Not that I judge! Thomas James Monroe. A very
solid name. A little hard to digest, if you wanna know the truth, buddy.
And the Monroes, you know, are already solid people, very solid, your
dad’s a great guy, terrific guy, but his sense of humor could fit inside a
shoe, if you know what I mean. He’s not the fastest on the uptake. Not
the slowest, by any way or means, but not the fastest, and sometimes,
when he’s drinking, I notice his eye wandering, his father, your
grandfather, the one with cocaine up his ass, a famous philanderer, once
had three girlfriends going and they say his father—this is just what I
hear—they say his father went to Utah, once, just to see how the
Mormons did it. Now that was a joke, and your father wouldn’t have
gotten it, but maybe you will, maybe you’ll be a little more than the sum.
That’s the dream, isn’t it? Thomas James Monroe. I don’t know what
you’re going to do with a name like that. Maybe you will be President.
Or a Senator. Or maybe you’ll grow up and live out your life in church
basements, sipping stale coffee and introducing yourself until they find
you with a shotgun barrel in your mouth. Maybe you’ll be a millionaire.
I don’t know. You could invent the next big thing, live in California, start
a cult. Your life is one big maybe. Except for us. Except for me and Clare
Anne and Patty and Gilbert and Dad and Mom and Bobby London and
your mama and your daddy and the long chain of almost might-havebeens                        that brought us to the hospital to see you born and it’s amazing.
Isn’t it amazing, Thomas? Your life, you, the one the nurses are swaddling
in a light blue blanket, you depend on those two people to be, to ever
have become, your mother and father, and their lives, just think about it,
depended on their mother and fathers, which means yours depends on
four people and then eight and then sixteen and on and on until it’s a
thousand people, ten thousand who had to outrun the reaper, at least
long enough to make a child—a small and red screaming thing like you.
A new moment in the world. And not just them, not just the thin margin
of people surviving but all of it, the whole of it, the storm that knocked
the tree limb down, the hard winter before that made it brittle, the white
pickup truck, the factory that made it, the salesman that sold it, the
Bible printers and the courthouse masons, not only had to be but had to
be as they were, within the second, everything just so. It’s incredible.
The whole of history ends up as you. Which is no new insight, believe
me—I’ve read it in books, seen it in movies, at least a dozen times over,
your Uncle Robbie, buddy, is not that original—but to see it. To see it
swaddled in a plastic crib. Thomas. I am in awe of the smallness of you.
And now Clare Ann is asking me what’s wrong, what’s the matter, and
Patty has a hand on my shoulder, is squeezing, and all of this, Thomas,
all of this is just to say hey, hi, hello. Welcome. We’re happy you made it.

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